Religious people discount the future less

Evan C. Carter, Michael E. McCullough, Jungmeen Kim-Spoon, Carolina Corrales, Adam Blake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The propensity for religious belief and behavior is a universal feature of human societies, but religious practice often imposes substantial costs upon its practitioners. This suggests that during human cultural evolution, the costs associated with religiosity might have been traded off for psychological or social benefits that redounded to fitness on average. One possible benefit of religious belief and behavior, which virtually every world religion extols, is delay of gratification-that is, the ability to forego small rewards available immediately in the interest of obtaining larger rewards that are available only after a time delay. In this study, we found that religious commitment was associated with a tendency to forgo immediate rewards in order to gain larger, future rewards. We also found that this relationship was partially mediated by future time orientation, which is a subjective sense that the future is very close in time and is approaching rapidly. Although the effect sizes of these associations were relatively small in magnitude, they were obtained even when controlling for sex and the Big Five personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-231
Number of pages8
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was generously supported by grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the Fetzer Institute .


  • Delay discounting
  • Delay of gratification
  • Evolution
  • Hyperbolic discounting
  • Impulsivity
  • Religion


Dive into the research topics of 'Religious people discount the future less'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this