New research finds science can evoke positivity as much as being religious

Early in my career I remember one of my professors describing some research as “beautiful”. Up to that point beautiful wasn’t a word I would have used in research.

But some studies are truly beautiful in the way they search for the truth. Seeing research this way is apparently a force for good and does you good. Research led by psychologists at Warwick University has revealed a profound connection between the spirituality of science and positive wellbeing, much like the benefits ­traditionally associated with religion.

Dr Jesse Preston, associate professor at Warwick and lead author of the study, said: “Spirituality is most often associated with religion, but science can be a powerful source of awe and wonder for many. It can provide a meaningful source of understanding yourself and the universe, and it can foster a sense of connection.”

Science can parallel the positive wellbeing observed in religious people. In three studies, Dr Preston and her research team surveyed 1,197 people (602 men, 589 women, and six others) on their attitudes towards religious beliefs, spirituality and their interest and belief in science. The first study established the concept of “Spirituality of Science”, and asked people about feelings of transcendence, connection and meaning when engaging with the subject. Their responses were feelings of awe, meaning in their lives and ­religious beliefs.

Scientific sources of spirituality may be psychologically similar to religious spirituality. In the second study, the researchers focused specifically on a group of 526 atheists and agnostics, and found spirituality of science could be linked with psychological wellbeing, such as happiness, and meaning in life.

Dr Preston explained: “Previous research has found that religious belief generally predicts positive mental wellbeing, but it has also implied that non-religious people may be subject to poorer psychological wellbeing. This research has found that, in fact, sources of spirituality outside of religion, like science, can have similar positive effects.”

The third study investigated links between the spirituality of science and learning in science, and found spiritual experiences in the subject made it easier to remember scientific information.

“Although science and religion differ in many ways, they share a capacity for spirituality through feelings of awe, coherence, and meaning in life. People with greater feelings of spirituality of science were more positively engaged with scientific material, which predicted better science performance.

“And in a group of atheists and agnostics, spirituality of science predicted measures of wellbeing and meaning in life, paralleling the positive effects of religion.”

That’s me.