Psychological Research

, Volume 77, Issue 6, pp 738–747 | Cite as

Heaven can wait. How religion modulates temporal discounting

Original Article


Evidence suggests that religious systems have specific effects on attentional and action control processes. The present study investigated whether religions also modulate choices that involve higher-order knowledge and the delay of gratification in particular. We tested Dutch Calvinists, Italian Catholics, and Atheists from both countries/cultures using an intertemporal choice task where participants could choose between a small immediate and a larger delayed monetary reward. Based on the Calvinist theory of predestination and the Catholic concept of a cycle of sin–confession–expiation, we predicted a reduced delay tolerance, i.e., higher discount rate, for Italian Catholics than for Dutch Calvinists, and intermediate rates for the two atheist groups. Analyses of discount rates support our hypotheses. We also found a magnitude effect on temporal discounting and faster responses for large than for small rewards across religions and countries/cultures. We conclude that temporal discounting is specifically modulated by religious upbringing rather than by generic cultural differences.


Discount Rate Magnitude Effect Delay Discount Large Reward Simon Task 



The research of the first author was funded by an ISTC-CNR intramural grant. The authors are grateful to the participants of the Intertemporal Day workshop (Rome, 29/05/2012), for providing useful comments on a previous version of this manuscript. We are also indebted to Wilfried Kunde and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful criticisms and suggestions for improvement.

Supplementary material

426_2012_473_MOESM1_ESM.doc (63 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 63 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Goal-Oriented Agents Lab (GOAL), Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della CognizioneCNRRomeItaly
  2. 2.Embodied Cognition Lab (EMCO), Dipartimento di PsicologiaUniversità degli Studi di BolognaBolognaItaly
  3. 3.Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della CognizioneRomeItaly
  4. 4.Cognitive Psychology Unit and Leiden Institute for Brain and CognitionLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

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