Study: Religion doesn't make you more moral

The current study breaks new ground in a few different ways. Perhaps most importantly, previous psychological studies of moral responses relied on observations in laboratory settings. This study, however, uses a method that allows researchers to escape the lab and catch glimpses of how participants think about morality as they go about their lives. Researchers using the method, known as “ecological momentary assessment,” periodically contact participants to report their feelings.

In this study, over 1200 people were texted five times a day over the course of three days. The texts asked if they’d committed, experienced, or heard moral or immoral acts in the previous hour. If a participant answered yes, there were follow-up questions that prompted him or her to describe the event and some of his or her reactions to it. The researchers collected over 13,000 responses, almost 4000 of which described a moral or immoral event. The acts ranged from the mundane to the unexpected: Assisted a tourist with directions because he looked lost. At work, someone stole my partner’s nice balsamic vinegar while he was off shift and most likely took it home with them. Hired someone to kill a muskrat that’s ultimately not causing any harm…

The main notable difference between religious and nonreligious people was that while both groups reported experiencing similar moral emotions, such as shame and gratitude, religious people described their feelings were somewhat more intense.