Guardian angels, road safety and risk taking: connected?

If the details reported by New York Magazine can be believed, then yes.

Interviews with 198 people showed that 45 percent believed in “a personal spirit or supernatural power” that watched over them. Further questions were designed to assess the participants’ attitudes toward risk-taking — for example, the question asking how risky the volunteers would rate driving 20 kilometers (12 miles) over the speed limit. Those who believed in guardian angels rated speeding as riskier than those who didn’t believe in the concept.

The study’s designer is David Etkin, “a professor of disaster management at York University” and was surprised by the findings. He thought he’d get an opposite response, that faith in guardian angels may result in people more willing to do the risky thing due to feeling protected by that higher power.

while this study didn’t test why the believers were more risk-averse, he has a theory. People who are more cautious also tend to be more fearful, and so he believes it makes sense that these are the types of people who want to believe in a spiritual safekeeper.

People, by and large, are terrible at assessing risk. The media helps to skew people’s perceptions of dangerous situations but we’d be doing it regardless of their influence. It’s in our nature.

Plus, if a religion puts a lot of stock in the power of fear – fear of eternal damnation, fear of god – then I can see why believers may be less likely to do the bold thing. Far safer to do the safe thing, from a day-to-day life perspective and an afterlife perspective. Speeding isn’t just dangerous as an activity; it’s against the law and breaking laws is sinful. Whose laws are they really afraid of breaking if they speed a little?

Thoughts?

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