for rediff.com on Oct. 18, 2008
Devotees pray at the feet of the 58.8 foot monolith of Gomateshwara on the Vindhyagiri hill in Shravanabelagola near Bengaluru in Karnataka.
It took scientists more than three decades to come to a conclusion which atheists might find hard to believe -- religious people are 'nicer'.
A major study, published in the Science journal, has revealed that people, who believe in God and frequently attend religious services as well as offer prayers, are more helpful, honest and generous.
And, what's more interesting is that the study found that believers acting for the greater good may be doing so to enhance their own reputation among friends and acquaintances, the Daily Mail reported.
Lead scientist Dr Ara Norenzayan of British Columbia University said that the debate over whether religion improves behaviour had too often been driven by opinion and anecdote.
"We wanted to look at the hard scientific evidence," he said.
In fact, their study into the links between religion and 'pro-social' behaviour showed that religious and spiritual thoughts reduced rates of cheating in games and increased trust between strangers.
Experiments showed that good behaviour 'is more likely when religious thoughts are fresh in the mind' - when such behaviour boosts someone's reputation.
In one experiment, volunteers who had been told that a dead student's ghost had been seen in the experiment room cheated less on a test than those who had not.
Children who believed that a fictional character called Princess Alice was watching them were less likely to disobey their instructions.
In another experiment, the volunteers were given the choice of volunteering to raise money for a sick child who could not pay his medical bills.
Some were told that they would almost certainly be asked to help -- others were told that they were unlikely to be called upon.
"Only in the latter situation was a link between religiosity and volunteering evident," the researchers said.