According to ScienceDaily, researchers are finding strong links between anxiety and religious extremism in individuals:
Across all studies, anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions. In one study, mulling over a personal dilemma caused a general surge toward more idealistic personal goals. In another, struggling with a confusing mathematical passage caused a spike in radical religious extremes. In yet another, reflecting on relationship uncertainties caused the same religious zeal reaction.
I find this fascinating (and intuitively correct): religion is (among other things) an anxiety reduction device. And what motivational process causes this heightened religious response? Something researchers call “Reactive Approach Motivation”:
A basic motivational process called Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM) is responsible, according to lead researcher Ian McGregor, Associate Professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health. “Approach motivation is a tenacious state in which people become ‘locked and loaded’ on whatever goal or ideal they are promoting. They feel powerful, and thoughts and feelings related to other issues recede,” he says.
In other words, when you are under stress religion empowers and focuses you for the task at hand (fighting the thing elevating your anxiety). Here’s a bit more:
Findings published last year in the journal Psychological Science by the same authors and collaborators at the University of Toronto found that strong religious beliefs are associated with low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that becomes active in anxious predicaments.
“Taken together, the results of this research program suggest that bold but vulnerable people gravitate to idealistic and religious extremes for relief from anxiety,” McGregor says.
I suppose that this is the phenomenon that we are witnessing with Tea Partiers (which, in my view, are involved in a pseudo-religious cult movement). They’ve focused their anxiety on Barack Obama, and they’re “lock and loading” on the November 2010 congressional election. Their extremist ideology is giving them a heightened sense of control and confidence.
But my question is this: what happens when people activate their Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM) mechanism and yet fail to achieve their desired goals? Do they: (1) become paranoid; (2) become cognitively dissonant; (3) check-out of the larger society by retreating into the realm of the mind; (4) abandon politics for aesthetic projects; (5) become compliant; or (6) take up arms and become even more extreme?
And if they win do they start to perceive themselves as omnipotent?
All of the above?