If you live in a poor country, it’s likely that being religious will give you a boost in your happiness. If you live in a wealthy country, it’s likely that your happiness will not be affected by religion, but if anything you may more depressed/sad if you are religious. Also of note (in retrospect quite obvious) is the fact that secular people in wealthy nations report being significantly more happy than religious people in impoverished nations.
Gallup polls asked respondents from each of the world’s 32 poorest countries and 31 richest countries “did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday” and sorted responses into groups based on subjects religiosity to inquire whether happiness level correlates to religion.
On a related note “Gallup Polls in 143 countries reveal that among countries where average annual incomes are $2,000 or less, 92% of residents say religion is an important part of their daily lives. By contrast, among the richest countries surveyed — those where average annual incomes are $25,000 or more — that figure drops to 44%.”
Let me tell you a story. Today during lunch I did what I always do, I read an article by people who are supposed to be much smarter than I am. Surprisingly what I read explained my interactions with other people, especially when it comes to their disdain for data and preference for personal stories.
As I processed this article, I began to realize that there is a biological reason for why we prefer to believe the anecdotes our friends tell rather than cold, hard, facts. It turns out we humans are hardwired to prefer narrative.
Apparently a bunch of really smart scientist-people at Emory University did some tests and they discovered that hearing a story releases a chemical called oxytocin (don’t get excited, that’s different than oxycodone) and as it happens, this is the chemical released by breastfeeding mothers that illicits bonding.
“Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate School, found that reading simple, humanistic stories changes what is in our blood streams. Taking blood samples of subjects before and after reading a story about a father and his terminally ill son, Zak found their blood levels contained an increase of cortisol and also oxytocin after reading the story. Called the human bonding or empathy chemical, oxytocin is also released by breastfeeding mothers.” (1)
In addition, brain scans of subjects who listened to stories “showed heightened connectivity in a specific part of the brain. The left temporal cortex lit up, and not just for the period immediately following the reading assignments. The neural changes persisted for several days. This is why we sometimes say that a story was so powerful we just can’t seem to shake it.” There and a few other factors make us select narrative over data.
And thus sat and wondered whether I should just give up on charts, facts, evidence, and perhaps just start telling stories.
The sad reality is, most of us would side with a bumper sticker over a philosophy book, just because one is easier to understand.
“The more difficult it becomes to process a series of statements, the less credit you give them overall. During metacognition, the process of thinking about your own thinking, if you take a step back and notice that one way of looking at an argument is much easier than another, you will tend to prefer the easier way to process information and then leap to the conclusion that it is also more likely to be correct.
In experiments where two facts were placed side by side, subjects tended to rate statements as more likely to be true when those statements were presented in simple, legible type than when printed in a weird font with a difficult-to-read color pattern. Similarly, a barrage of counterarguments taking up a full page seems to be less persuasive to a naysayer than a single, simple, powerful statement.”
-David McRaney, ‘You Are Not So Smart’ (1)
Facts never win arguments because we are more likely to dig in our heels when we hear facts that disagree with our beliefs. This has been observed by psychologists in numerous studies and has been called the “The Backfire Effect”
David McRaney says “Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do this instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens those misconceptions instead.”
While scholars discovered that “under a lot of conditions, the mere existence of contradictory facts [to their beliefs] made people more sure of themselves — or made them claim to be more sure.”
In 2000 a previously normal Virginia schoolteacher began having pedophiliac sexual urges, he tried seeking counseling help, but failed a Sexaholics Anonymous course.
The day before jail, he checked himself into the emergency room where they found a large brain tumor. The tumor was cut out and his urges went away, he easily passed the SA and became completely normal.
A year later the aberrant sexual urges returned, he went back to the hospital, and the doctors found a peice of the tumor was left behind/grew back. After a second surgery the man again lost all abnornal sexual urges and began to live a normal life.
Dr. Stuart C. Yudofsky, a psychiatrist at the Baylor College of Medicine who specializes in behavioral changes associated with brain disorders, also has seen the way brain tumors can bend a person’s behavior. “This tells us something about being human, doesn’t it?” Yudofsky said. If one’s actions are governed by how well the brain is working, “does it mean we have less free will than we think?” (1)
Did you know that memory is very unreliable? We often, edit, and remake our memories without realizing it.
“If I’ve learned anything from these decades of working on these problems, it’s this: just because somebody tells you something and they say it with confidence, just because they say it with lots of detail, just because they express emotion when they say it, doesn’t mean that it really happened. We can’t reliably distinguish true memories from false memories.” (Elizabeth Loftus, cognitive psychologist)
Are ideas of justice and equality only human traits? Do these rise out of a Platonic soul deep within our being? Or are these biological traits?
There is evidence that this is indeed dictated by our biology. In this experiment, two monkeys are taught a trade system, rock for food, and this trade works fine with a cucumber, until the second monkey receives a better trade (a grape) which causes the first to become upset about the injustice.
Click here to see the video (starts at 13 minute mark):