Need for Sense of Control, Either Personal or External

Overcoming Bias points to an article in the July 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (links to full text here but it’s fee-based, or available through your library system) that examines four psychological experiments and concludes that when we feel a weak sense of personal control, we are more likely to believe “in the existence of a controlling God” and to defend “the overarching socio-political system.” The authors discuss “the implications of these results for understanding why a high percentage of the population believes in the existence of God, and why people so often endorse and justify their socio-political systems.” Sounds interesting — I hope to read more when the July issue is available via my library system’s EBSCOhost subscription.

This hypothesis seems in line with earlier reporting correlating that the longevity of communities with their religious underpinnings (religious communities last longer than secular ones, on the whole) and finding that the communities persist longer when those underpinnings (and the lifestyle they lead to) are stricter, more controlling.

Marginal Revolution commented on the same article, hypothesising that similar effects may hold for medicine and media, i.e., that we’d be more likely to believe that doctors are effective when our health is in jeopardy and that we’d be more likely to believe in media accuracy when we believe we need that media information in order to be safe. In all cases, we want to feel that someone is in control.


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