If you're in the market for a mate and you encounter evidence of just how much competition is out there, what do you do?
For a lot of people, the answer seems to be: Start praying.
According to a newly published study, college students who viewed photos of attractive people of their own gender described themselves as "significantly more religious" than their peers. In contrast, viewing photos of attractive members of the opposite sex — that is, potential mates — had no impact on the personal piety meter.
Writing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a research team led by Yexin Jessica Li of Arizona State University describe two experiments examining romance and religiosity. In the first, 269 ASU students (97 men, 172 women) were randomly assigned to view personal profiles of either six attractive men or six attractive women. They were told their input would be used to improve the campus's online dating service.
Afterwards, they were asked to rate (on a 10-point scale) the extent to which they agreed with the following statements: "I believe in God;" "We'd be better off if religion played a bigger role in people's lives;" and "Religious beliefs are important to me in my everyday decisions."
The results: Women who read profiles of other women, and men who read profiles of available men, described higher levels of religiosity than those who learned about members of the opposite sex.
In a second experiment, 184 students took part in a repeat of the first study, after which their answers where compared with a control group of 1,493 ASU undergrads. The results of the first experiment were confirmed: Men who viewed profiles of other men, and women who viewed profiles of other women, scored higher in religiosity than their peers; those who saw opposite-sex profiles did not.
The researchers offer no definitive explanation for these results. They note they might be measuring "self-presentation" as opposed to actual religious fervor — which would still leave the question of why exposure to romantic rivals would lead one to describe oneself as more devout.
The study provides intriguing evidence that religiosity, like so many other human values, is not as firm and consistent as we tend to believe. At least for many people, it appears to vary depending upon certain environmental cues — one of which is the likelihood of capturing the attention of a potential romantic partner.
Perhaps the adage "there are no atheists in foxholes" also applies to the war between the sexes.
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