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Alcohol Reverses Religion's Prosocial Influence on Aggression


  • Note: This research was supported by grant R01-AA-11691 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol-ism and by the National Center for Research Resources awarded to Peter R. Giancola.

Correspondence should be addressed to Peter R. Giancola, Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky, Kastle Hall, Lexington, KY 40506–0044 USA. E-Mail:


The relationship between religion and violence is controversial. Discrepant findings exist between survey studies and the limited number of experimental investigations of religiosity's influence on aggressive behavior. We have attempted to resolve this discrepancy by addressing previous limitations in the literature and assessing a heretofore-untested moderator of religiosity and aggression: alcohol intoxication. This investigation included a community sample of 251 men and 269 women randomly assigned to either an acute alcohol intoxication condition or a placebo condition. Participants completed a series of questions drawn from standardized instruments of religiosity and spirituality prior to competing on an aggression laboratory paradigm in which electric shocks were received from, and administered to, a fictitious opponent under the guise of a competitive reaction-time task. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed a significant beverage-by-religiosity interaction. Religiosity predicted lower levels of aggression for participants in the placebo group and higher levels of aggression for intoxicated participants. Results indicated that high religiosity coupled with alcohol intoxication may be a risk factor for aggression. This novel finding may help to clarify previous discrepancies in studies of religiosity and aggression.