Enough is Enough

When is Humanity Going to Get That We’re All in This Together?

Violent Scriptures Increase Aggression in Study

Posted by honestpoet on February 24, 2007

Here’s a study we found online. It seemed pertinent. Now who’s gonna tell me religion isn’t toxic?

Public release date: 23-Feb-2007

Contact: Brad Bushman
Association for Psychological Science
When God sanctions killing, the people listen

New research published in the March issue of Psychological Science may help elucidate the relationship between religious indoctrination and violence, a topic that has gained renewed notoriety in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. In the article, University of Michigan psychologist Brad Bushman and his colleagues suggest that scriptural violence sanctioned by God can increase aggression, especially in believers.

The authors set out to examine this interaction by conducting experiments with undergraduates at two religiously contrasting universities: Brigham Young University where 99% of students report believing in God and the Bible and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam where just 50% report believing in God and 27% believe in the bible.

After reporting their religious affiliation and beliefs, the participants read a parable adapted from a relatively obscure passage in the King James Bible describing the brutal torture and murder of a woman, and her husband’s subsequent revenge on her attackers. Half of the participants were told that the passage came from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament while the other half were told it was an ancient scroll discovered in an archaeological expedition.

In addition to the scriptural distinction, half of the participants from both the bible and the ancient scroll groups read an adjusted version that included the verse:

“The Lord commanded Israel to take arms against their brothers and chasten them before the LORD.”

The participants were then placed in pairs and instructed to compete in a simple reaction task. The winner of the task would be able to “blast” his or her partner with noise up to 105 decibels, about the same volume as a fire alarm. The test measures aggression.

As expected, the Brigham Young students were more aggressive (i.e. louder) with their blasts if they had been told that the passage they had previously read was from the bible rather than a scroll. Likewise, participants were more aggressive if they had read the additional verse that depicts God sanctioning violence.

At the more secular Vrije Universiteit, the results were surprisingly similar. Although Vrije students were less likely to be influenced by the source of the material, they blasted more aggressively when the passage that they read included the sanctioning of the violence by God. This finding held true even for non-believers, though to a lesser extent.

The research sheds light on the possible origins of violent religious fundamentalism and falls in line with theories proposed by scholars of religious terrorism, who hypothesize that exposure to violent scriptures may induce extremists to engage in aggressive actions. “To the extent religious extremists engage in prolonged, selective reading of the scriptures, focusing on violent retribution toward unbelievers instead of the overall message of acceptance and understanding,” writes Bushman “one might expect to see increased brutality”

Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. For a copy of the article “When God Sanctions Killing: Effect of Scriptural Violence on Aggression” and access to other Psychological Science research findings please contact Catherine West at (202) 783-2077 or cwest@psychologicalscience.org.


30 Responses to “Violent Scriptures Increase Aggression in Study”

  1. whig said

    Ignorance and unquestioning belief are toxic. Religion need not be either.

  2. Interesting study. Thanks for sharing.

    -J. Kaiser

  3. whig said

    I thought you might find this scripture interesting to consider — the fact that the priests and pastors mislead their flocks is well-known. Those who seek no glory for themselves are not glorified during their lives.

  4. honestpoet said

    You know, I went to church every Sunday for my entire childhood. I’m not sure why you think any of this blah blah blah is unfamiliar to me.

    The fact that clerics have ALWAYS misled their flocks just strengthens my argument that religion is B.S. A big load of B.S. Not just at the margins, but to the core.

    I don’t care how much comfort it brings people. Truth is better. Reality is better. Owning up to reality is the only thing that will save us from the mess that we’ve made arguing over various flavors of bullshit.

  5. whig said

    I’m just being real, too.

  6. whig said

    Here’s the thing, HP. I know and you know that cannabis prohibition has to be ended. We’ve long had a metaphor to explain how important it is. You want me to not use that metaphor?

  7. Miche said

    I don’t believe in a particular god, but I believe in the idea of leaving the world unhurt by my actions. Because of that belief, I try to be kind to people, animals and the environment. I want to leave this world without inflicting pain or stain.

    The religious among us often attribute trials and pain as tests from God. I wish that they would consider that their god may have tested their faiths by appearing to many in many forms. My mom sees god through Jesus, a Muslim sees god through Mohammed, Jews see g_d as a future fulfillment of Torah prophesy, Buddhists through Buddha and Hindus see god as one but represented by several.

    The “golden rule” is”:

    The ethic of reciprocity or “The Golden Rule” is a fundamental moral principle found in virtually all major religions and cultures, which simply means “treat others as you would like to be treated.” It is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights. Principal philosophers and religious figures have stated it in different ways,

    “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” — Torah Leviticus 19:18
    “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Torah Leviticus 19:33-34
    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — Jesus (ca. 5 BCE—33 CE) in the Gospels, Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, Luke 10:25
    “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” — Muhammad (c. 571 – 632 CE) Hadith.
    Similar statement have been made with other traditions, which teach a passive reciprocity. These teachings do not explicitly require generosity or charity, but merely prohibit harming others. These are referred to as the silver rule. (Robert Spitzer, The Life Principles, 1999)

    “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” — Hillel (ca. 50 BCE-10 CE)
    “This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” from the Mahabharata (5:15:17) (ca. 500BCE)
    “What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others.” — Confucius (ca. 551–479 BCE)

    Most religions share the “golden rule” and, to the religious, I submit that you were tested, and found wanting.

  8. honestpoet said

    Whig, I don’t care WHAT metaphors you use. Just don’t expect me to pretend they’re real. I’ve never come to your blog to disagree with you, have I?

    Miche, that’s one of the things that impelled me on the path to abandoning faith for reality. I couldn’t tolerate the idea of so many being sent to Hell for the crime of being born in a different culture. It didn’t seem logical to me that a loving god could do such a thing.

    Religions developed when we needed answers to the questions that plagued us as we opened our eyes to our own being. Where did we come from? What ARE we? Where are we headed? Well, science has provided pretty satisfactory answers to the first two. The last one, really, is up to us. And I don’t think it’s going to be an answer we’ll be proud of unless we give up these old stories (we can keep them as relics, like museum pieces, and glean the good from them, like those golden and silver rules) as stepping stones in our development into a unified, forward-looking, cooperative and peaceful humanity.

  9. whig said

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I just have a different way of expressing myself. I think we both understand one another better for having conversation, and you’re welcome to do so at my blog as well. My metaphor is not better than yours for all purposes. Yours is not better than mine for all purposes. Both communicate with different people, in different ways, and both are important and useful to us. You don’t see me attacking science, do you?

  10. whig said

    Miche, if Honestpoet will allow me to reply to you, we cannot avoid doing some harm sometimes, merely by existing. My own intention is harm reduction, to find ways to reduce suffering, to help people educate and inform themselves to make better decisions that will cause them less pain. I’m not sure who you are measuring and finding wanting, but hope you do not include everyone who is religious in the way I am.

  11. honestpoet said

    Whig, science is not a metaphor.

  12. whig said

    Every word is a metaphor for a thing, the word is not the thing.

  13. honestpoet said

    I’ve told you before, Whig, words are not metaphors. They’re symbols. Big difference.

  14. whig said

    What does the word “evolution” symbolize?

  15. whig said

    Before you answer angrily, please recognize that I’m not doubting evolution. I’m saying it’s a good metaphor, though precisely how it happens is rather harder to be sure of in all cases. Natural selection, sure, but there is also intelligent decisionmaking involved in choosing how we mate and provide for the continuation of our descent.

  16. honestpoet said

    Whig, it takes a lot more than that to make me angry. Frustrated, exasperated, maybe, but hardly angry. Your beliefs aren’t important enough to me for that strong an emotion.

    The word “evolution” (in the context you’re using it) symbolizes the process by which life created and continues to create itself.

    It is NOT a metaphor. It’s a word, which is a sign (I was wrong…symbol is slightly different). A word has an agreed-upon meaning which can be looked up in a dictionary. E.g.:

    Main Entry: evo·lu·tion

    …4 a : the historical development of a biological group (as a race or species) …

    Main Entry: sign

    …c : a fundamental linguistic unit that designates an object or relation or has a purely syntactic function …

    Main Entry: met·a·phor

    …1 : a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly : figurative language — compare SIMILE

    Words have distinct meanings, Whig. Metaphors are open to interpretation. That’s why poorly written (or extremely deep…and they’re often confused) poetry can be hard to understand.

    Religion, it seems to me, is often the result of metaphoric language having lost its meaning and begun to be taken literally. When that happens, it’s time to discard the old poetry and write new stuff.

  17. whig said

    Religion, it seems to me, is often the result of metaphoric language having lost its meaning and begun to be taken literally. When that happens, it’s time to discard the old poetry and write new stuff.

    There is nothing that requires religion to take metaphors literally, and the proper solution is to discover whether the original meaning can be recovered, not to throw away the preserved knowledge and traditions of millennia.

  18. honestpoet said

    Whig, how many times do I have to request that we agree to disagree?

    I find nothing in the Bible worth keeping, nor anything else in the Abrahamic traditions. Nothing but misogyny, violence, rationalization for pillage and plunder, homophobia, hatred, incest, and child abuse. Granted, that’s mostly in the old testament (though Paul says a few things I could disagree with in his letters), but the gospel doesn’t rest on its own merits. It purports that Jesus came in fulfillment of the prophesies in the OT. So you’ve got to buy the whole thing. And it’s poison.

    Buddhism in most practices encourages death of the mind. Hinduism simply supports a cruel caste system. Jainism is beautiful but unpractical. Pantheism and panentheism seem like wishful thinking on the part of folks unable to relinquish the god delusion. That pretty much just leaves the Norse gods, and while I think they’re really neat stories, I don’t think I want my neighbors itching to get to Valhalla. Or faeries. And why bother.

    Religion is stupid and childish. I’m open minded about many things about which I do not know. But I’ve studied religion exhaustively. And I’ve concluded that it’s all BS. So you’re wasting your time disagreeing with me, and sort of annoying me. I don’t understand why you insist on doing that.

  19. whig said

    We can agree to stop talking, if you like. I consider the gospel of Thomas the most interesting, actually. If you want to critique something, that would be the one I’d ask you to argue against if you want to be relevant to my own metaphor. If you’d rather this conversation just be over, then it is.

  20. honestpoet said

    I understand the Gospel of Thomas is interesting, written in the present tense (as in, “Jesus says…” instead of “Jesus said…”), as if to imply that it was written while he lived.

    It’s all poetry, though, Whig. It’s all a literary artifact.

    I have no problem with you finding it useful. I don’t. And I don’t want any form of ancient literature pushed on my kids as anything but ancient literature. Got it?

    I have no problem with you, or discussing things with you. But I will no longer approve any more redundant comments from you. Okay? And by redundant, I mean any more comments arguing in favor of religion. You’ve said your piece on that subject more than a few times.

  21. whig said

    Just understand, when you criticize religious people for this or that you are not respecting differences. That is, there’s not a fair characterization of “religious people” that would include hypocrites like Pat Robertson and also honest people who think for themselves. You can count me out of almost all of your characterizations, and that’s the point, it’s bothersome to me that I am being lumped in with such jerks without deserving to be.

  22. honestpoet said

    Fair enough.

    How about I call them “religious jerks” from now on? Is that clear enough?

  23. whig said

    As long as you make it clear that you are excluding the many religious people who are not jerks, and as long as you are calling people jerks for being jerks, not for being religious.

  24. honestpoet said

    Whig, you’re getting a little picky, here. It’s not up to you to mandate my language, thank you very much.

  25. Tenne said

    I have to say something!
    Everybody knows that religious fundamentalist use God and scriptures – both of whatever kind – to justify violence.
    Everybody knows that people are more willing to tolerate violence if it seems justified or sanctioned by some authority -of whatever kind – they accept.
    No study is needed to show this.
    Nut I doubt, whether reading that God sanctiones violence will automatically lead to more agressive behavior.
    But even if it was true, this stiudy by Bushman does not show any oof it. It’s a schoolbook example for a bad experimantal setup, cpontrolls are lacking or ridiculous. The measurement of agression is to be doubted. Furthermore this “agression” is somehow too general and noone could exclude, that it arises from irritation caused by the behavior of the people in the text, or God in the text, or the taking it out of the context, or by the study as a whole (middle-eastern literature, as they were told, for what they had to tell their religion and so on).
    Why for instance have the students in the second group, when told that the passage was from the Bible a greater tendency to act agressive afterwards if the text did NOT include the sentence with God????
    That just shows, that the study is influenced by nonrecognised influencing factors. That should make us think.
    I am really angry how such a bad study comes to be cited be high ranking journals in a unreflected way with the most placative headlines and how these NEWS are subsequently just copied and pasted one all kind of web pages just because it fits to a general trend without really reading the thing and just one single moment critically wondering, whether it is scientifically correkt.
    This makes me sick. I can’t understand, how this is possible.

  26. honestpoet said

    Well, what I don’t understand is, if you accept the first part of your post as obvious, why you have such a hard time accepting the results of the study.

  27. Tenne said

    Because they are no results scientifically. How would You explain the questions I asked? How would You explain, that mentioning God would increase agression in non-believers? How would You explain, that mentioning God decreased agression in study-2 people when it was said to be from the bible? Where is the controll with people who didn’t read anything? Where is the controll with no sanctioning (not even the counsil)? We are talking about scientific procedure, and that was not scientific. That I do doubt what they pretend to have shown has nothing to do wiht it, except, that I would probably not have looked it up in detail, if I would have believed it, and I’m sorry for that bias.
    But mind! What I see as obvious and what they say is not the same!
    They imply, that (in part even regardless of the acceptance of the authority) people automatically BEHAVE more violent and agressive IN GENERAL if agression is somewhat sanctioned in one UNRELATED SITUATION by an authority.
    That sounds like a bit like nonsense to me.

  28. honestpoet said

    How do you explain your strange use of capitalization and punctuation and diction?

    Look, I don’t have time to address your questions. You’re lucky I let you pose them. I don’t have to publish yours posts, you know.

    My husband, who knows science very well, has no problem with the study as science. I’m thinking this bothers you for emotional, not intellectual, reasons.

  29. Tenne said

    And I thank You for letting me post them. This I appreciate very much. I don’t wnat to be impertinant. This here I write just as an answer to Your post. (For my writing disabilities: I’m sorry not to be a native speaker/writer. And I capitalized for emphasis.)
    I just put the questions to You rhethorically, not intending to trouble You for an answer, which would take pretty much time indeed, I suppose, because it’s not trivial.
    Whether knowing science well or not You can certainly understand why the study troubles me – admittedly both emotionally and scientifically. Because it indicates, that even You as a participant of the study or in the real world would behave more agressively when reading about violence santioned by god – even though You are supposedly not religious. Now You will perhaps say: Sure I would become agressive, because reading that god sanctiones violence makes me really angry.
    Perfectly justified too. But just imagine what the authors of the study would have interpreted from that. That Your agression is caused by the thought that it is not bad because god sanctioned it? Now this would trouble You – emotionally and scientifically too, wouldn’t it?

  30. honestpoet said

    I thought perhaps English was not your native language…not a problem. I’m sure your English is better than my attempts at your language would be.

    My intuition about the part of the study you question is that even those who profess not to believe are actually still tied to the inherited faith of the society around them…that is, they still haven’t really let go, so their unconscious belief in God acts on them when they read scripture sanctioning violence, thereby leading to the increase in aggression.

    That’s why I, as an atheist, hope to help root out those unconscious beliefs in the people who choose to attempt to be rational (as I’ve had to root them out in myself).

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