DALLAS, March 6 (Reuters Life!) - Violent passages in religious texts can increase aggressive behavior in people, especially if they are true believers and the violence is sanctioned by God, according to a new U.S. and Dutch study.
The study was based on research at the Brigham Young University in Utah and Vrije University in the Netherlands which conducted experiments to see if such scriptures raised aggression levels among the faithful.
Participants in the studies read a passage about the savage murder of a woman and her husband’s revenge on her killers, with some also reading a command from God to take up arms, and were then allowed to blast a loud noise at a losing partner.
The study’s lead author Brad Bushman, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, said the reaction was greatest from believers who were told the Bible was involved or if they read God’s sanction for violence.
“Even among our participants who were not religiously devout, exposure to God-sanctioned violence increased subsequent aggression,” said Bushman, whose study is published in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science.
Two groups of students were involved. The first group was from Brigham Young University, of whom 99 percent believed in God and the Bible, and the second was from the Netherlands, of whom 50 percent believed in God and 27 percent in the Bible.
After reading the violent passage adapted from the widely used King James version of the Bible, half were informed it was from the Old Testament of the Bible and half were told that it came from an ancient scroll unearthed by archeologists.
Additionally, half of the subjects from each group read a version which included a command by God for his followers to take up arms against others, or unbelievers.
After the readings, the students were paired with other people and told the winner would be able to “blast” the losing partner with noise as loud as 105 decibels, about the level of a fire alarm —- a common experimental measure of aggression.
Bushman said the results were revealing.
Both the religious and non-religious participants were more aggressive and delivered louder blasts when told the passage was a piece of Biblical scripture or read God’s sanction but the believers outdid the others in both cases.
“That the effect was found in such a sample may attest to the insidious power of exposure to literary scriptural violence,” Bushman wrote in his report.
But the researchers cautioned that reading such scriptures did not necessarily lead to violent acts.
“Violent stories that teach moral lessons or that are balanced with descriptions of victims’ suffering or the aggressor’s remorse can teach important lessons and have legitimate artistic merit,” said Bushman.
“But taking a single violent episode out of its overall context, as we did in these studies, can produce a significant increase in aggression.”