Experimental Science of Human Motivations and Relations


Not everyone is inspired by religion. Indeed, some people see it so tainted by irrationality as to find it repugnant. Historical examples of militant Christianity with its holy crusades and inquisitions together with contemporary news about the atrocities perpetrated in the name of militant Islam turn some people off of religion for good. Indeed, since the Enlightenment in the 1700s, there has been a trend beginning with some vanguard scientists, philosophers, and skeptics to shift their locus of inspiration from the transcendent realm to the temporal realm of secular humanism, progress, and enjoyment. Our recent research does show that the same kind of psychological inspiration can be attained from this-worldly incentives (power, pleasure, and relaxation) as from other-worldly incentives (spiritual and idealistic). Both kinds are capable of activating eager, approach motivated states that are resistant to anxiety. Our research does strongly show, however, that on average, non-religious people have a harder time maintaining meaning in life than religious people. Agnostics and atheists report significantly lower meaning in life. On average, the transcendent realm of ideals seems to inspire people more reliably than the concrete world. From the perspective of another line of our research (described next), for better or worse, meaning seems to be a more powerful form of well-being than happiness.​

*Note: to see in context of other research topics in our lab, click on the RESEARCH link at the top of this page.