Study Finds Students Who Believe in Angry, Vengeful God Are Less Likely to Cheat

Posted on April 20, 2011

University of Oregon psychologist Azim F. Shariff recently ran a study to determine how views of God may influence academic cheating. The study found that students who believe in an angry and vengeful God were less likely to cheat.

In the first experiment, 61 undergraduates took a math test described as simple, but tedious. Students were told about a software glitch in which the correct answer to each problem would appear after several seconds. To avoid seeing the correct answer, students were told to press the space bar immediately after viewing each problem.

After taking the tests the students were questioned about their religiosity, views of God and demographics. The students' views of God were analyzed and divided to identify the participants' perceptions of their God's being loving, caring and forgiving or harsh, punitive, vengeful and punishing. The students' cheating -- whether they used the space bar to avoid getting the correct answer -- was also measured.

In the second study, 39 undergraduate participants were surveyed several days before the cheating task about their views of God in a series of randomly asked questions that touched on a number of different topics. The subjects later took the same tedious math test with the same software "glitch."

The researchers say there was no differences found in cheating between self-described believers in God and non-believers. In both experiments, students who believed in a mean, punishing God were found to be the least likely to cheat. Perhaps, these students feared their angry, vengeful God might blast them with a bolt of lightning right at their computer if they dared not hit the space bar and sneak a peek at one of the answers.

Shariff says. "There is a relationship: Believing in a mean god, a punishing one, does contribute to cheating behavior. Believing in a loving, forgiving god seems to have an opposite effect."

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