Does fear of God make students more honest? Apparently so, according to a new study by psychology researchers the University of British Columbia.
The study found that students who think God is a mean and punishing figure are less likely to cheat than those who think God is caring and forgiving.
"Taken together, our findings demonstrate, at least in some preliminary way, that religious beliefs do have an effect on moral behavior, but what matters more than whether you believe in a god is what kind of god you believe in," said one of the researchers, Azim Shariff.
The study found no difference in attitudes on cheating between non-believers and those who believe in a forgiving god. So it is not religiousity per se that makes the key difference, but a punitive kind of religion.
However, other studies have found that religious students in general are less likely to cheat. For instance, a study published in 2005 by David A. Rettinger and Augustus E. Jordan reported that "more religiosity correlates with reduced reports of cheating in all courses." One reason, these authors said, was that religious students were less likely to have the grade orientation associated with cheating.