Needless to say, we still don’t know why inklings of religion increase self-control. The scientists describe thoughts of God as providing the mind with “important psychological nutrients” that “refuel” our inner resources, much like Gatorade replenishes the body after a long run.

But how does religion do this? The scientists think that faith-based thoughts may increase “self-monitoring” by evoking the idea of an all-knowing, omnipresent God. Previous research, which showed that priming people to think of a vengeful, angry God reduces the likelihood of dishonesty, supports this view. If God is always watching, we better not misbehave—he knows about the pepperoni.

For Rabbi Wolpe, these results are an important reminder that human nature is deeply shaped by external structures. “People need a system of rules to live by,” he says, adding: “People drive slower when they see a police car. God is a bit like that police car: Thinking about Him makes it easier to do the right thing.”