Science Can Comfort in Times of Stress

Science and religion are often taken to offer competing explanations of the world (Preston & Epley, 2009). That science can be a source of meaning, similar to religion, is not a completely new idea; it has been raised by philosophers (Ziman, 1978/1991) and scientists (Dawkins, 2006) alike. While many have attempted to understand the emotional or social underpinnings of religious belief, the possibility that science might serve similar psychological functions has received less attention. Employing a novel field experiment and a well-researched experimental paradigm, our two experiments indicate that belief in science increases when individuals are placed in threatening situations. Our findings suggest that belief in science may help non-religious people deal with adverse conditions, as has been reported previously for religious belief (Inzlicht et al., 2012; Kay et al., 2009; Norenzayan, & Hansen, 2006), belief in progress (Rutjens et al., 2009, 2010), and belief in intelligent design and evolutionary theory (Rutjens, van der Pligt, & van Harreveld, 2010; Tracy, Hart, & Martens, 2011). We acknowledge, however, that we examined only one direction of the effect; investigating whether affirming one’s belief in science indeed reduces stress and existential anxiety thus represents a particularly productive direction for future research.


The relationship between belief in science and belief in progress also needs to be addressed. Is belief in science a belief in a human institution that is continually advancing, which would make it a specific case of belief in progress; or is it belief in a method that allows us to make sense of the world? Contrary to belief in progress, which is laden with a sense of positive hope and is therefore essentially an evaluative concept (Rutjens et al., 2009, 2010), belief in science is largely an epistemic worldview, expressing confidence in a distinctive method for understanding the world. The two notions need not overlap: One can have confidence in science, yet hold a deeply pessimistic view of the future. Conversely, there is no epistemic component to belief in progress, which is associated with moral progress and is, in principle, compatible with belief in the supernatural.

It is perhaps not surprising that secular belief systems like Humanism and belief in progress can play a comforting role, as they present the world as a broadly moral order. By contrast, our findings suggest that merely believing in the superiority of science as a method of making sense of the universe may be sufficient to play such a compensatory role, even if the order that science reveals is not moral, and perhaps independently of any optimism about the future.


Scientific evidence that secular individuals can turn to their belief in science when faced with stressful situations just as the religious turn to their faith.

Folksonomies: science humanism stress

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/religion and spirituality (0.364358)
/health and fitness/disorders/mental disorder/panic and anxiety (0.135120)

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Religion (0.949186): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Faith (0.637538): dbpedia | freebase
Epistemology (0.598865): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Science (0.536296): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Philosophy (0.508329): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Supernatural (0.492334): dbpedia | freebase
Experiment (0.467231): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Scientific method (0.438666): dbpedia | freebase

 Scientific faith: Belief in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Farias, Newheiser, Kahane, Toledo (29 May 2013), Scientific faith: Belief in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Retrieved on 2013-06-08
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science religion belief stress


    08 JUN 2013

     Science to Comfort and Console

    How the belief in science and human progress can comfort those without religious belief.
    Folksonomies: science humanism
    Folksonomies: science humanism