Religiosity is correlated with many different psychological states and behaviors, such as empathy and generosity, or exclusivity and violence. However, the causal connections between belief, experience, and behavior are presently unclear. Psychologists Neal Krause and David Hayward recently completed a seven-year longitudinal study that seeks to tease apart the mental components of a religious life and establish causation. They follow a line of cognitive dominoes falling into each other: religious commitment tips into humility, into compassion, into support for others, into a sense of meaning. The last piece falls on gratitude to God. In the researchers’ view, this gratitude is actually indirect thankfulness for the people in the churchgoer’s life. Their theoretical scheme is an interesting attempt at integrating the abundant, but disparate research on the cognitive mechanisms underpinning religion.
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