Religion has long been theorized to serve important functions for societies and individuals; specifically, as a source of knowledge about what is real and as a source of norms prescribing how individuals should behave. However, science and scientists appear to be playing an increasingly large role in public discourse. A majority of adults in the U.S. report interest in science and an increasing number are obtaining degrees in the sciences – more so among males than females. As a result, we examined (1) whether and how participants’ demographic background, religious background, and two indicators of well-being relate to a “belief in science” index, and (2) whether those relations differed among males and females. 560 young adults from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds participated. The findings presented here suggest that belief in science and religiosity are strongly inversely correlated, and if belief in science does confer emotion-related benefits, it may operate differently across demographic categories. Specifically, we find that belief in science is related to emotion dysregulation and death anxiety among males, but not females, even though females scored lower on these indicators of well-being overall.
Religion has long been theorized to serve important functions for societies and for individuals (Durkheim,  1995; James,  1985; Turner, Maryanski, Petersen, & Geertz, 2017). For example, religious institutions are sources of knowledge through the proliferation of cultural scripts which help people interpret observations of events in the world (e.g., lifecycle, seasons, social interactions) (Gauvain & Perez, 2015). Overall, scholars also attribute positive health outcomes to being religious (Harding, Flannelly, Weaver, & Costa, 2005). Recent reviews of the literature have found associations between greater religious involvement and (a) greater positive mental health outcomes (e.g., self-esteem), (b) lower negative mental health outcomes (e.g., anxiety), (c) more frequent engagement in healthy behaviors (e.g., exercising), and (d) better physical health (e.g., lower mortality) (Koenig, 2015; Koenig, King, & Carson, 2012).
However, contentious debate has emerged about whether or not these positive outcomes are unique to religion, or whether there are secular mechanisms (i.e., group support, community involvement) undergirding the relationship between religiosity and health. For example, engaging in ritualistic behaviors, whether or not they contain supernatural-religious elements, increases perceptions of control over one’s life and therefore contains emotional benefits (Norton & Gino, 2014). Galen (2018) argues that much of the research linking religiosity to the positive outcomes listed above has confounded the supposed health-enhancing effects of “religion” with more profane secular processes such as committing to a worldview, being immersed in a social network, and sharing the beliefs of those around you (i.e., normativity).
This debate has emerged in response to several decades of research highlighting noticeable declines across all forms of religiosity (for a review see McCaffree, 2017; Voas and Chaves, 2016). For example, the percentage of adults that do not affiliate with a religion has tripled since the 1970’s (from 7% to 23%; Lipka, 2015; Pew Research Center, 2012). Church membership has declined 20% since 1999 (from 70% to 50%; Jones, 2019), and the percentage of individuals who state that they never attend a church or synagogue has almost tripled since 1995 (from 10% to 28%; Gallup, 2019). The number of Americans that report not believing in, or being unsure about the existence of, God more than doubled between 2004 and 2016 (from 9% to 21%; Newport, 2016).
1 Well-Being and a New Target of Belief
Importantly, being “nonreligious,” does not necessarily mean that you do not believe in anything or nothing; on the contrary, the nonreligious vary widely in their beliefs, behaviors, and social commitments (McCaffree, 2017). One possibility that lacks sufficient exploration is that non-religious people may be more likely than their religious counterparts to place their “faith” in a non-supernatural source of order, meaning, and control (Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009; Friesen, Laurin, Shepherd, Gaucher, & Kay, 2019). People tend to construct an account of their life and the world around them that allows for the interpretation of stability and order (Landau, Kay, & Whitson, 2015). Research has shown that religious experiences are not the only way that people can achieve a sense of control when under conditions of uncertainty (Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009; Kay Gaucher, McGregor, & Nash, 2010; Rutjens and Kay, 2016). As a result, research on nonreligious people might also examine non-religious targets of meaning making and order so as to assess the types of behaviors that nonreligious people are engaging in to maintain social ties or regulate their emotions (Zuckerman, 2015).
In the current study, we focus on one possible target of meaning making and order: science. Specifically, we consider the institution of science as a possible object of “faith” among ostensibly nonreligious people. This is important because, to the extent that harboring hopeful trust in an external institution provides or facilitates a sense of control, existential comfort, predictability and order, such “faith” may reduce short-term perceptions of harm and increase or maintain life satisfaction in the face of adversity (Harding & Sibley, 2013). This is not to say that religious individuals do not or cannot achieve a sense of order and control by a “faith” in science, but one possibility is that nonreligious individuals do so to a greater extent.
Farias and colleagues (2013) have developed a novel measure, the Belief in Science Scale (BISS), to measure the possibility of a compensatory role for belief in science that parallels that of belief in religion or belief in God. Through two experiments, they found that individuals in a high stress scenario and those primed with their own mortality, scored higher on belief in science compared to individuals in control conditions. There is some debate regarding what the BISS more precisely measures; in their article, Farias and colleagues (2013) describe the scale as measuring belief, “in the superiority of science as a method of making sense of the universe” (p. 1213). Dagnall and colleagues (2019) suggest that the BISS measures the degree to which individuals believe that science provides meaning and solves problems. They also characterized the scale as measuring the degree to which science is viewed as a superior source of knowledge, compared to that of religion. Using a modified version of the BISS, Rutjens, Sutton, and van der Lee (2018) found no relationship between belief in science and a general measure of scientific literacy; in other words, belief in science is distinct from knowledge about science.
Studies show that the BISS and several measures of religiosity are negatively related—lower religiosity covaries with greater belief in science (Farias et al., 2013; Farias & Newheiser, 2019). This is consistent with a 2014 Pew Poll that found that the least religiously observant adults (i.e., those who rarely or never attend religious services) were the most likely to say that science and religion are often in conflict (Pew Research Center, 2015). Several experiments by Rutjens, Sutton, and van der Lee (2018) with a modified BISS found that greater reported religious orthodoxy, belief in God, and more purity concerns covaried with lower belief in science. They also found that being younger covaried with greater belief in science.
2 Gender and Targets of Belief
Previous research has highlighted demographic differences in religiosity. For example, females in the United States (and globally), especially Christian females, report greater belief in God, are more likely to affiliate with a religious community, and attend religious services on a more frequent basis as compared to males (Pew Research Center, 2016; Schnabel, 2015). Similarly, there appears to be gender-related differences with regard to science, particularly in interest in science, knowledge of science, and belief in science as a superior source of knowledge. For example, compared to female respondents, males report greater levels of confidence in scientific leaders and belief in scientific progress (Stavrova, Ehlebracht, & Fetchenhauer, 2016). The percentage of males that earned a bachelor’s degree in science and engineering increased by 5% from 2006 to 2016 (23% to 28%); it only increased by 2% among women (11% to 13%) (NSC Research Center, 2017). According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2019), males continue to earn more degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). During the 2016–2017 academic year, males were twice as likely to earn a degree in STEM. Rutjens, Sutton, and van der Lee (2018) found that being male co-varied with greater belief in science; however, they also found that once they accounted for their other variables of interest (e.g., religious identity), gender was no longer significant. Kennedy and Heffron (2019) found that males scored higher than women on a science knowledge scale: while men answered 7.4 (out of 11 questions) correctly on average, women correctly answered 6.0 on average.
3 Current Study
This study was driven by two objectives. The first was to examine whether and how (a) demographic/family background characteristics, (b) religious background characteristics, and (c) emotion-related experiences (i.e., indicators of well-being) relate to belief in science. We hypothesized that (1) religious background would be negatively related to belief in science (Farias et al., 2013; Farias & Newheiser, 2019), (2) parents’ educational attainment and the participant’s year in school would be positively related to belief in science (Dou, Hazari, Dabney, Sonnert, & Sadler, 2019), and, in an exploratory hypothesis, that (3) emotion-regulation ability and death anxiety would be significantly related to belief in science (Farias & Newheiser, 2019; Sawyer, Brewster, & Ertl, 2019). Taking into consideration previous research that has highlighted differences between males and females’ religiosity and interest in science as a function of gender (Pew Research Center, 2016; Thoman & Sansone, 2016; Stoet & Geary, 2018), our second objective was to explore whether any relationships with belief in science found in the first objective vary by reported gender identity. Regarding this objective, we hypothesized that (1) males would report greater belief in science, that (2) females would report greater religiosity; and by virtue of those differences, (3) the factors that co-vary with belief science would differ between men and women.
3.1 Materials and Methods
Participants. 560 young adults (Mage = 19.31, SD = 1.30; 59% female) participated. They reported diverse ethnic backgrounds: Asian-American (24%), multi-ethnic (23%), Latin-American (21%), African-American (19%), Caucasian (9%), and other/ decline to state (4%). Participants were recruited from a large research university on the west coast of the United States. Prospective participants learned about the study through an online research participation portal (i.e., Sona Systems) where it was advertised. Participants completed an online questionnaire (approximately 25 minutes) and were awarded credit hours towards meeting a course requirement.
Measures. Participants filled out a questionnaire that measured (a) demographic characteristics, (b) belief in science, (c) emotion-related experiences, (d) family background, and (e) religious background.
Belief in science. Belief in science was measured with 8 items (see Table 1) from the original 10-item scale developed by Farias and colleagues (2013). One original item was excluded because it made an esoteric reference to a book published over 20 years ago, while a second was excluded because it directly contrasted science with religion – something we did not want to prime participants to do artificially. The unidimensional nature of this measure has been psychometrically validated (Dagnall, Denovan, Drinkwater, & Parker, 2019). Responses to each item ranged from “strongly disagree”  to “strongly agree”  and were averaged for an overall belief in science score ( α = .94).
Demographic and family-related background. For Household Income, participants answered a question on their family’s household income last year. Responses ranged from “$0–$20,000” , to “$100,000+” . For Parental Education, participants answered a question on the highest level of education achieved by their mother, and a question on the highest level of education achieved by their father. Responses ranged from “did not complete high school” , to “advanced degree” . Responses were summed for an overall measure of parental education. Participants answered a question on their Year in School; response options were “freshman” , “sophomore” , “junior” , and “senior” . For Gender, participants answered a question about the gender they identified with; responses were categorized as “male” , or “female” . For Religious Disagreement, participants answered the question, “do you and your closest family members disagree on religious issues?” Responses ranged from “we do not disagree”  to “we disagree a lot” .
Religious background. For the purposes of this paper, we conceptualize religion as three distinct but related dimensions of experience: (a) belief, (b) behavior, and (c) belonging (McCaffree, 2017; Zuckerman, Galen, & Pasquale, 2016). Religious Behaviors were measured with two questions on how often participants participate in private and public religious practices. Responses for each question ranged from “never”  to “multiple times a week” , and were averaged (
Emotion-related experiences (i.e., indicators of well-being). Participants filled out the Difficulty with Emotion Regulation Scale (36 items; Gratz & Roemer, 2004). This scale was designed to measure the degree to which someone lacks (a) acceptance of their emotional responses, (b) emotional awareness, and (c) emotional clarity. It additionally measures the degree to which someone has (d) limited access to emotion regulation strategies, (e) difficulty engaging in goal directed behavior and (f) difficulty with impulse control. Responses to each question ranged from “almost never”  to “almost always” . Even though you can calculate subscale scores for each of the areas listed above, you can also create an overall measure of Emotion Dysregulation by summing the scores for each item (30 items;
Participants filled out the Death Anxiety Questionnaire (15 items; Conte, Weiner, & Plutchik, 1982). It was designed to measure attitudes towards death and dying (e.g., worry related to not knowing what to expect after death). Responses ranged from “not at all”  to “very much” ; and were averaged for an overall measure of Death Anxiety (
4.1 Preliminary Analyses: Demographic Differences
A series of Independent-samples t-tests revealed differences between males and females (see Table 2 for statistics). Males scored significantly higher than females on Belief in Science. Males scored significantly lower than females on Religious Belief (i.e., belief in God). Refer to Figure 1 for a visual depiction of this difference. Males scored significantly lower than females on Religious Behavior. There was not a significant difference between males and females on Religious Disagreement. A Chi-square test for independence revealed that females were more likely to affiliate with a religious tradition than males were,
A One-Way ANOVA revealed a significant difference in Belief in Science between individuals in different years in school, F(3,556) = 4.994, p = .002. Post-hoc Tukey HSD tests found that Freshman (M = 3.07, SD = 1.22) scored significantly lower on Belief in Science than did Junior (M = 3.53, SD = 1.21) and Senior (M = 3.59, SD = 1.27) students. Junior and Senior students did not differ from each other, and Sophomore (M = 3.36, SD = 1.23) students did not significantly differ from the other three groups. A One-Way ANOVA revealed that Belief in Science did not differ between ethnic groups, F(3,405) = 1.541, p = .203, indicating that Caucasian, Asian-American, African-American, and Latin-American students did not significantly differ from each other on this measure. As a result, ethnicity was excluded from the following analyses.
4.2 Belief in Science
Correlational analyses (aggregate sample). For the zero-order correlations, means, and standard deviations, see Table 3. Higher Belief in Science co-varied with a greater number of years in school, greater disagreement with one’s family over religious issues, greater difficultly with emotion regulation, and greater anxiety about one’s own mortality. Those correlations were significant and small in size. Higher Belief in Science also co-varied with lower reported belief in God, lower frequency of engagement in religious practices, and being less likely to report having a religious affiliation. Those correlations were significant and large in size. Belief in Science was not significantly related to household income or parental education.
Gender and Belief in Science. A series of multiple regression analyses with predictors entered hierarchically were used to examine the predictors of Belief in Science among males and among females separately (see Table 4).
Males. Model 1 included the demographic characteristic Year in School and the family background characteristic Religious Disagreement. Both predictors were significant, as was the overall model, F(2, 227) = 6.193, p = .002, R2adjusted = .043. Model 2 added in religious background characteristics. Religious Disagreement and Year in School were no longer significant predictors. Religious Belonging was not a significant predictor, while Religious Belief and Religious Behavior were significant predictors. Overall, Model 2 fit significantly better than Model 1, F
Females. For Model 1, both predictors were significant, as was the overall model, F(2, 327) = 13.134, p < .001, R2adjusted = .069. For Model 2, Religious Disagreement and Year in School were no longer significant predictors. Religious Belonging was not a significant predictor, while Religious Belief and Religious Behavior were significant predictors. Overall, Model 2 fit significantly better than Model 1, F
Emotion Dysregulation and Death Anxiety. Given the gender differences regarding emotion dysregulation and death anxiety noted above; the following post-hoc analyses were run. Independent-samples t-tests revealed that females reported significantly higher death anxiety and difficulty with regulating emotions (see Table 2). Further, among males, Religious Belief was not significantly related to Emotion Dysregulation (r = −.020, p = .770) or Death Anxiety (r = −.072, p = .276). Among males, Religious Behavior was not significantly related to Emotion Dysregulation (r = −.021, p = .757) or Death Anxiety (r = −.095, p = .151). Among females, Religious Behavior was negatively related to Emotion Dysregulation (r = −.150, p = .007), and Death Anxiety (r = −.201, p < .001). Among females, Religious Belief was negatively related to Emotion Dysregulation (r = −.117, p = .035), but not Death Anxiety (r = −.053, p = .334).
In the current study, the correlates of belief in science were examined with 560 young adults. Specifically, we examined whether and how participants’ (1) religious background, (2) demographic characteristics, (3) family background, and (4) emotion-related experiences related to belief in science. Further, we sought to examine if these factors differed between males and females. In pursuing these objectives, we aimed to contribute to two theoretical points of inquiry: (1) do people adopt science as a target of “belief,” particularly in lieu of religious belief, and (2) if the answer is “yes,” does that belief relate to emotion-related well-being? In other words, someone may adopt a belief that science helps us understand reality (i.e., make sense of the world) in conjunction with and/or in replacement of religious belief; however, scientific belief may or may not serve to alleviate anxieties. Several intriguing patterns related to religious background, belief in science, and gender were revealed. Below, we discuss what those patterns were and their implications for our understanding of compensatory belief systems.
5.1 Belief in Science
Religious background. Measures of religious experience (belief, behavior, belonging) were strongly negatively related to belief in science. In particular, lack of religious belief (i.e., belief in God) was the largest predictor of belief in science, even after controlling for demographic characteristics and emotion-related experiences. This was the case for both males and females; but the relationship was larger among females. While the regression coefficient for religious belief was small for males, it was moderate-to-large for females.
Other scholars have noted a strong epistemic conflict between religious ways of knowing (e.g., intuition, faith, prayer) and scientific ways of knowing (e.g., evidence, logical consistency, parsimony) (McCauley, 2011). However, though religion and science are contradictory ways of knowing in principle, there is also considerable research on how the same individuals utilize both as explanatory mechanisms in practice (e.g., Legare, Evans, Rosengren, & Harris, 2012; Shtulman, 2013). What this study suggests however, is that religious belief and belief in science do not appear to overlap in intensity. In other words, young adults do not appear to hold strong beliefs that God exists, while simultaneously espousing strong beliefs in the epistemological and cultural value of science. This finding is consistent with prior research (e.g., Farias et al., 2013) and theory (Kay et al., 2009).
Research has shown that some Christians in the United States are especially opposed to science due to its association with certain topical issues such as human evolution and stem cell research (Evans, 2011). Further, to the extent that traditional religion provides a sufficient source of compensatory control and emotion regulation, those with existing commitments to religion may not feel a strong need or desire to develop any particular “belief” in the importance of science (Kay, Gaucher, McGregor, & Nash, 2010; Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009).
Gender differences. Although we investigated the background characteristics of parents’ education, religious disagreement with family members, year in school, and ethnicity, it was gender where the most intriguing findings emerged. The finding that males reported higher scores on belief in science is consistent with research showing that males tend to report higher interest in science (Ehrlinger et al., 2018). Females in this sample were significantly more religious than the males, and previous research has suggested that religiosity and belief in science are inversely related. Together, these results are suggestive of the possibility that males are relatively more motivated to find order and purpose in a scientific worldview than women. While this possibility is in need of further investigation, social movement research on followers of “New Atheists” (a group of scholars committed to, among other things, represent the scientific worldview as beautiful and satisfying) finds that followers skew heavily male, with females sometimes comprising only 20% of the audience at public events such as rallies or meetings (e.g., Guenther, 2019).
Critically, however, average scores on belief in science may be higher for males than for females for reasons other than (or more distal to) higher male interest in science. For example, our data revealed that the negative relationship between religious experience and belief in science was larger among females in the sample. Other studies have found that people who hold identities they believe are devalued tend to resist adopting further potentially stigmatizing beliefs or identities (Scheitle, Corcoran, & Hudnall, 2018). Insofar as women and girls feel stigmatized in math and science educational settings, or feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable with science due to socialization experiences (Jones, Howe, & Rua, 2000; Wang & Degol, 2017), we might expect females to report lower scores on belief in science. Either way, females may not want to risk inviting any additional social stigma or criticism. What this means for the development and adoption of a scientific compensatory belief system however, is that adoption may differ as a result of gender-based socialization experiences or gender-based differences in interest. This possibility should be unpacked further in future research.
Death anxiety and emotion regulation. While death anxiety and emotion dysregulation were significantly related to lower belief in science among males, this was not the case for females. Belief in science and indicators of well-being (emotional dysregulation and death anxiety) were unrelated among females. However, among females, religious belief was related to lower emotion dysregulation scores and religious behavior was related to lower emotion dysregulation and death anxiety scores. Greater reported religiosity among females (i.e., church attendance or prayer), corresponded with lower death anxiety and emotion dysregulation. Among males, religious belief and behavior were not significantly related to indicators of well-being.
The finding that more behaviorally religious females had lower death anxiety and better emotion regulation is generally consistent with work indicating that religion can be a source of compensatory control and emotion regulation (Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009; Landau, Kay, & Whitson, 2015; McCullough & Willoughby, 2009). But what of the finding that religious belief and behavior had no relationship to emotion dysregulation and death anxiety for males? It is possible that males, especially the young adult males in this sample, are looking to religion less often for help with emotion regulation compared to men in prior generations (Bengston, 2013). It is also possible that the social networks of male participants are less religious than the social networks of the female participants (as indicated by the higher religious behavior reported among females), such that any religious commitments among male respondents would be less interpersonally reinforced and therefore less impactful on emotion regulation. This possibility cannot be directly assessed, however, in the present study.
Lastly, why was belief in science related to emotional dysregulation and death anxiety only among males? From the current analyses, we cannot infer causation. We cannot say if more death anxious, emotionally dysregulated males were more likely than others to adopt a belief in science, or if males with strong existing beliefs in science were more likely to develop death anxiety and emotional regulatory difficulties. Hence, we offer several possibilities for why this pattern was found. First, it is possible that males developing a high belief in science are more likely than females to have had conflicts with their parents over religion growing up, leading to subsequent emotion regulation difficulties (Cragun et al., 2012; Kugelmass & Garcia, 2015). In support of this interpretation, greater disagreement over religious issues with family members co-varied with higher belief in science, death anxiety, and emotion dysregulation in the aggregate sample (i.e., with males and females). And although males and females did not significantly differ on how much they reported currently disagreeing with family members on religious issues, it is possible that they had emotionally salient disagreements in late childhood or adolescence.
Second, it is possible that males in this study were more likely than females to be in the process of transitioning away from a religious worldview. Individuals moving from a firm religious worldview to a scientific worldview might have temporary difficulties regulating their emotions or coping with death anxiety because they might psychologically occupy an in-between ideological space – somewhere between committing to two different views of the world. What seems to matter for mental health is not so much the content of the belief but the psychological firmness of the belief and the degree of social network embeddedness with other believers of that worldview (Acevedo, Ellison, & Xu, 2014; Hogg, 2000). Therefore, being ambivalent about, or in limbo between, firm religious and firm scientific worldviews could contribute to difficulty with emotional regulation. Zuckerman and colleagues (2016) argue that questioning or critiquing the taken-for-granted religiosity of family and community constitutes a normal, healthy “maturational” process. However, this process can presumably become stuck in between adherence to either more supernatural religious or more naturalistic scientific outlooks.
One important point to note is that the relationship between these indicators of well-being and belief in science do not appear to be explained by greater death anxiety and emotion dysregulation among males generally speaking. On the contrary, females in the sample self-reported significantly higher emotion dysregulation and death anxiety. The finding that females overall had higher emotion dysregulation and death anxiety is consistent with research showing that college-aged females tend to report higher levels of neuroticism (Soto, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2011).
There are several limitations to this research that merit discussion. First, insofar as religion and science are considered ideologies capable of providing a cohesive (i.e., internally consistent) account of the world, religion in this study was measured along three axes (belief, behavior and belonging), while belief in science was measured using a single index. Thus, while science and religion might both provide a cohesive worldview, these ideologies were not measured in an equivalent way. Religion and science may not be analogous forms of achieving compensatory control, however, to examine such a possibility, future work should attempt to assess belief in science (what we measured), but also attempt to measure some form of “science behavior” (e.g., taking part in lab activities) and “science belonging” (e.g., affiliation with a science college major) to provide a more analogous comparison to religious experience.
A second limitation is that we have no way of assessing whether concepts of science are shared across participants. An important part of the explanation for why average belief in science scores were higher for males than for females may be that males and females construe the concept of science differently. All we can evaluate with the measurement tools used here is participants’ endorsement of science as a form of knowledge, or what others have dubbed “belief” in science. For example, one of the belief in science scale items states, “The scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge.” While responding to that statement, participants may be drawing from a range of ideas about what the scientific method is (e.g., objectivity, falsifiability), or perhaps they are simply imagining something they saw a scientist do on television or in a class. How the concept of science is construed, and how the component parts of this concept fit together, remains out of the scope of this particular study. However, it is important because the concept of “science” may figure into the ontology, epistemology or axiology of peoples’ worldview in different ways (Taves, Asprem, & Ihm, 2018).
A third limitation concerns the nature of our sample. We conducted this study using a sample of college students. This restricted age range therefore limits the inferences that can be made about older generations, including older millennials. This is important because religious belief and behavior have changed significantly over the last several generations, as has nonreligious secular belief and behavior (Bengston, 2013; Zuckerman, Galen, & Pasquale, 2016). Despite this limitation concerning generalizability, what was learned in this study still contributes to the secular compensatory control research; and does so with a sample of one of the most secular segments of the U.S. adult population, precisely during a time in their life course when they are most exposed to the promotion of a scientific worldview (i.e., in a higher educational setting).
In this study of the correlates of belief in science we found several interesting relationships involving gender, religious belief and behavior, emotion dysregulation and death anxiety. As far as we know, this study is the first of its kind to assess these things together. Overall, our results indicated that greater belief in science is associated with having progressed further in earning a college degree, identifying as male, reporting less certainty in the existence of God, engaging in religious practices less often, having greater difficulty regulating emotions, and having greater anxiety surrounding one’s own mortality. Subsequent analyses revealed that higher scores on belief in science were associated with greater emotional dysregulation and greater death anxiety among male, but not female participants.
Future research should (a) continue to examine whether and how science serves as a compensatory system for traditional religion, and (b) investigate the effectiveness of scientific worldviews for alleviating emotion-related difficulties amongst individuals with different demographic characteristics. Furthermore, it is important that future work controls for conceptions of science, expands the age range of participants to examine generational effects, and attempts to measure scientific and religious compensatory control systems symmetrically (i.e., include measures of scientific-related behavior and scientific-related belonging).
Acevedo, G. A., Ellison, C. G., & Xu, X. (2014). Is it really religion? Comparing the main and stress-buffering effects of religious and secular civic engagement on psychological distress. Society and Mental Health, 4(2), 111–128. doi: 10.1177/2156869313520558.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , Acevedo, G. A. , & Ellison, C. G. Xu, X. ). 2014 Is it really religion? Comparing the main and stress-buffering effects of religious and secular civic engagement on psychological distress. Society and Mental Health, 4( 2), 111– 128. doi: 10.1177/2156869313520558.
American Academy of Arts & Sciences. (2018). The public face of science: Perceptions of science in America [report]. Retrieved from https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads/PFoS-Perceptions-Science-America.pdf.
Bengtson, V. L. (2013). Families and faith: How religion is passed down across generations. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Conte, H. R., Weiner, M. B., & Plutchik, R. (1982). Measuring death anxiety: Conceptual, psychometric, and factor-analytic aspects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(4), 775–785. doi: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.525.
Cragun, R. T., Kosmin, B., Keysar, A., Hammer, J. H., & Nielsen, M. (2012). On the receiving end: Discrimination toward the non-religious in the United States. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 27(1), 105–127. doi: 10.1080/13537903.2012.642741.
Dagnall, N., Denovan, A., Drinkwater, K. G., & Parker, A. (2019). An evaluation of the belief in science scale. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 861. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00861.
Dou, R., Hazari, Z., Dabney, K., Sonnert, G., & Sadler, P. (2019). Early informal STEM experiences and STEM identity: The importance of talking science. Science Education, 103(3), 623–637. doi: 10.1002/sce.21499.
Ehrlinger, J., Plant, E. A., Hartwig, M. K., Vossen, J. J., Columb, C. J., & Brewer, L. E. (2018). Do gender differences in perceived prototypical computer scientists and engineers contribute to gender gaps in computer science and engineering? Sex Roles, 78(1–2), 40–51. doi: 10.1007/s11199-017-0763-x.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , Ehrlinger, J. , Plant, E. A. , Hartwig, M. K. , Vossen, J. J. , & Columb, C. J. Brewer, L. E. ). 2018 Do gender differences in perceived prototypical computer scientists and engineers contribute to gender gaps in computer science and engineering?Sex Roles, 78( 1–2), 40– 51. doi: 10.1007/s11199-017-0763-x.
Evans, J. H. (2011). Epistemological and moral conflict between religion and science. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50(4), 707–727. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2011.01603.x.
Farias, M., & Newheiser, A. K. (2019). The effects of belief in God and science on acute stress. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, Retrieved from https://pure.coventry.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/22672871/Binder4.pdf.
Farias, M., Newheiser, A. K., Kahane, G., & de Toledo, Z. (2013). Scientific faith: Belief in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(6), 1210–1213. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.05.008.
Friesen, J. P., Laurin, K., Shepherd, S., Gaucher, D., & Kay, A. C. (2019). System justification: Experimental evidence, its contextual nature, and implications for social change. British Journal of Social Psychology, 58(2), 315–339. doi: 10.1111/bjso.12278.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , Friesen, J. P. , Laurin, K. , Shepherd, S. , & Gaucher, D. Kay, A. C. ). 2019 System justification: Experimental evidence, its contextual nature, and implications for social change. British Journal of Social Psychology, 58( 2), 315– 339. doi: 10.1111/bjso.12278.
Funk, C., & Kennedy, B. (2019). Public confidence in scientists has remained stable for decades. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/03/22/public-confidence-in-scientists-has-remained-stable-for-decades/.
Galen, L. W. (2018). Focusing on the nonreligious reveals secular mechanisms underlying well-being and prosociality. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 10(3), 296. doi: 10.1037/rel0000202.
Gauvain, M., & Perez, S. (2015). Cognitive development and culture. In R. M. Lerner (Series Ed.) and L. Liben and U. Muller (Vol. Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science, 7th Ed., Vol. 2: Cognitive Processes (pp. 854–896). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , & Gauvain, M. Perez, S. ). 2015 Cognitive development and culture. In (Vol. Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science, 7th Ed., Vol. 2: Cognitive Processes (pp. (Series Ed.) and R. M. Lerner and L. Liben U. Muller 854– 896). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Gratz, K. L., & Roemer, L. (2004). Multidimensional assessment of emotion regulation and dysregulation: Development, factor structure, and initial validation of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26(1), 41–54. doi: 10.1007/s10862-008-9102-4.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , & Gratz, K. L. Roemer, L. ). 2004 Multidimensional assessment of emotion regulation and dysregulation: Development, factor structure, and initial validation of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26( 1), 41– 54. doi: 10.1007/s10862-008-9102-4.
Guenther, K. M. (2019). Secular sexism: The persistence of gender inequality in the US new atheist movement. Women’s Studies International Forum, 72, 47–55. doi: 10.1016/j.wsif.2018.11.007.
Hallion, L. S., Steinman, S. A., Tolin, D. F., & Diefenbach, G. J. (2018). Psychometric properties of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale (DERS) and its short forms in adults with emotional disorders. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 539. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00539.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , Hallion, L. S. , Steinman, S. A. , & Tolin, D. F. Diefenbach, G. J. ). 2018 Psychometric properties of the difficulties in emotion regulation scale (DERS) and its short forms in adults with emotional disorders. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 539. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00539.
Harding, S. R., Flannelly, K. J., Weaver, A. J., & Costa, K. G. (2005). The influence of religion on death anxiety and death acceptance. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 8(4), 253–261. doi: 10.1080/13674670412331304311.
Harding, J. F., & Sibley, C. G. (2013). The palliative function of system justification: Concurrent benefits versus longer-term costs to wellbeing. Social Indicators Research, 113(1), 401–418. doi: 10.1007/s11205-012-0101-1.
Hogg, M. A. (2000). Subjective uncertainty reduction through self-categorization: A motivational theory of social identity processes. European Review of Social Psychology, 11(1), 223–255. doi: 10.1080/14792772043000040.
Jones, M. G., Howe, A., & Rua, M. J. (2000). Gender differences in students’ experiences, interests, and attitudes toward science and scientists. Science Education, 84(2), 180–192. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1098–237X(200003)84:2<180::AID-SCE3>3.0.CO;2-X.
Jones, J. M. (2019). U.S. church membership down sharply in past two decades. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/248837/church-membership-down-sharply-past-two-decades.aspx.
Kay, A. C., Whitson, J. A., Gaucher, D., & Galinsky, A. D. (2009). Compensatory control: Achieving order through the mind, our institutions, and the heavens. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(5), 264–268. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01649.x.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , Kay, A. C. , Whitson, J. A. , & Gaucher, D. Galinsky, A. D. ). 2009 Compensatory control: Achieving order through the mind, our institutions, and the heavens. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18( 5), 264– 268. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01649.x.
Kay, A. C., Gaucher, D., McGregor, I., & Nash, K. (2010). Religious belief as compensatory control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(1), 37–48. doi: 10.1177/1088868309353750.
Koenig, H. G., King, D., & Carson, V. B. (2012). Handbook of religion and health (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Kennedy, B., & Hefferon, M. (2019). What Americans know about science. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2019/03/28/what-americans-know-about-science/.
Kugelmass, H., & Garcia, A. (2015). Mental disorder among nonreligious adolescents. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 18(5): 368–379. doi: 10.1080/13674676.2015.1063044.
Landau, M. J., Kay, A. C., & Whitson, J. A. (2015). Compensatory control and the appeal of a structured world. Psychological Bulletin, 141(3), 694. doi: 10.1037/a0038703.
Legare, C. H., Evans, E. M., Rosengren, K. S., & Harris, P. L. (2012). The coexistence of natural and supernatural explanations across cultures and development. Child Development, 83(3), 779–793. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01743.x.
Lipka, M. (2015). Millennials increasingly are driving growth of ‘nones’. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/12/millennials-increasingly-are-driving-growth-of-nones/.
McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. R. (2017). Do secular and religious social networks meet the same individual and societal needs? Religion, Brain & Behavior, 7(4), 309–312. doi: 10.1080/2153599X.2016.1249912.
McCullough, M. E., & Willoughby, B. L. B. (2009). Religion, self-regulation, and self-control: Associations, explanations, and implications. Psychological Bulletin, 135(1), 69–93. doi: 10.1037/a0014213.
Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., & Funk, C. (2017). Science news and information today. Retrieved from https://www.journalism.org/2017/09/20/most-americans-express-curiosity-in-science-news-but-a-minority-are-active-science-news-consumers/.
Newport, F. (2016). Social policy issues: Most Americans still believe in God. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/193271/americans-believe-god.aspx.
Norton, M. I., & Gino, F. (2014). Rituals alleviate grieving for loved ones, lovers, and lotteries. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(1), 266–727. doi: 10.1037/a0031772.
NSC Research Center. (2017). Science and engineering degree attainment – 2017. Retrieved from https://nscresearchcenter.org/snapshotreport-science-and-engineering-degree-completion-by-gender/.
Proudfoot, D., & Kay, A. C. (2016). Membership in a stable organization can sustain individuals’ sense of control. Academy of Management Proceedings, 1, 10217. doi: 10.5465/ambpp.2016.10217abstract.
Pew Research Center. (2012). “Nones” on the rise: Religion and the unaffiliated. Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise-religion/.
Pew Research Center. (2015). Religion and science. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/10/22/science-and-religion/.
Rutjens, B. T., & Kay, A. C. (2016). Compensatory control theory and the psychological importance of perceiving order. In M. Bukowski, I. Fritsche, A. Guinote, & M. Kofta (Eds.), Coping with Lack of Control in a Social World (pp. 93–106). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , & Rutjens, B. T. Kay, A. C. ). 2016 Compensatory control theory and the psychological importance of perceiving order. In (Eds.), Coping with Lack of Control in a Social World (pp. , M. Bukowski , I. Fritsche , & A. Guinote M. Kofta 93– 106). New York, NY: Routledge.
Rutjens, B. T., Sutton, R. M., & van der Lee, R. (2018). Not all skepticism is equal: Exploring the ideological antecedents of science acceptance and rejection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(3), 384–405. doi: 10.1177/0146167217741314.
Sawyer, J. S., Brewster, M. E., & Ertl, M. M. (2019). Death anxiety and death acceptance in atheists and other nonbelievers. Death Studies, 1–10. doi: 10.1080/07481187.2019.1648339.
Scheitle, C. P., Corcoran, K. E., & Hudnall, E. B. (2018). Adopting a stigmatized label: Social determinants of identifying as an atheist beyond disbelief. Social Forces, 97(4), 1731–1756. doi: 10.1093/sf/soy084.
Schnabel, L. (2015). How religious are American women and men? Gender differences and similarities. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 54(3), 616–622.
Shariff, A. F., Piazza, J., & Kramer, S. R. (2014). Morality and the religious mind: Why theists and nontheists differ. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(9), 439–441. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.05.003.
Shtulman, A. (2013). Epistemic similarities between students’ scientific and supernatural beliefs. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(1), 199–212. doi: 10.1037/a0030282.
Smith, J. M. (2017). Can the secular be the object of belief and belonging? The Sunday Assembly. Qualitative Sociology, 40(1), 83–109. doi: 10.1007/s11133-016-9350-7.
Smith, J. M., & Cragun, R. T. (2019). Mapping religion’s other: A review of the study of nonreligion and secularity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 58(6), 319–335. doi: 10.1111/jssr.12597.
Soto, C. J., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2011). Age differences in personality traits from 10 to 65: Big Five domains and facets in a large cross-sectional sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(2), 330. doi: 10.1037/a0021717.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , Soto, C. J. , John, O. P. , & Gosling, S. D. Potter, J. ). 2011 Age differences in personality traits from 10 to 65: Big Five domains and facets in a large cross-sectional sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100( 2), 330. doi: 10.1037/a0021717.
Stavrova, O., Ehlebracht, D., & Fetchenhauer, D. (2016). Belief in scientific – technological progress and life satisfaction: The role of personal control. Personality and Individual Differences, 96, 227–236. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2016.03.013.
Stoet, G., & Geary, D. C. (2018). The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Psychological Science, 29(4), 581–593. doi: 10.1177/0956797617741719.
Taves, A., Asprem, E., & Ihm, E. (2018). Psychology, meaning making, and the study of worldviews: Beyond religion and non-religion. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 10(3), 207. doi: 10.1037/rel0000201.
Thoman, D. B., & Sansone, C. (2016). Gender bias triggers diverging science interests between women and men: The role of activity interest appraisals. Motivation and Emotion, 40(3), 464–477. doi: 10.1007/s11031-016-9550-1.
Turner, J. H., Maryanski, A., Petersen, A. K., & Geertz, A. W. (2017). The emergence and evolution of religion: By means of natural selection. New York, NY: Routledge.
Voas, D., & Chaves, M. (2016). Is the United States a counterexample to the secularization thesis? American Journal of Sociology, 121(5), 1517–1556. doi: 10.1086/684202.
Wang, M. T., & Degol, J. L. (2017). Gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: Current knowledge, implications for practice, policy, and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 29(1), 119–140. doi: 10.1007/s10648-015-9355-x.
- Search Google Scholar
- Export Citation
( , & Wang, M. T. Degol, J. L. ). 2017 Gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: Current knowledge, implications for practice, policy, and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 29( 1), 119– 140. doi: 10.1007/s10648-015-9355-x.
Zuckerman, P. (2009). Society without God: What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Zuckerman, P., Galen, L. W., & Pasquale, F. L. (2016). The nonreligious: Understanding secular people and societies. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.