sins (seven of them)

Just finished reading The Science of Sin The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (And Why They Are So Good for You) by Simon M. Laham, PhD – and lo and behold, Pastor Keith Wyatt touched on the subject of these deadly sins this past Sunday, his first sermon being on Pride.

Well, I am, to my shame, intimately acquainted with these deadly sins, before reading the book and before hearing the sermon. But, figured it might behoove me to mull over them (and share on my Awareness Blog) – since I had two reminders in one week: one from Simon M. Laham and one from Pastor Keith Wyatt.

the seven deadly sins

Lust: Promotes Creativity

When Vladas Griskevicius primed participants with lust by having them imagine going on a date with an attractive, desirable romantic partner, he found participants were subsequently more creative when asked to write a story. When thinking about a potential desirable partner, the ornament of creativity was put on show.

Gluttony: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, Smart, and Helpful

. . . gluttony and obesity aren’t the same thing. . . . It was taking pleasure in the excesses of food that was the sin . . .

. . . Perhaps even more important, eating connects us with others. Food sharing is the forge of social bonds: it played a central role in the evolution of our species, binding males and females within households and cementing the larger community.

Greed: Buying Happiness, Hard Work, and Self-Reliance

. . . Finally, experiences age well. Unlike material possessions, whose unchanging physical realities are quickly adapted to, experiences, once lived, exist as memories, open to reinvention and reinterpretation.

Sloth – Slow, Lazy, and Asleep Wins the Race

Out brain is quite good at gist processing when we’re awake. But it turns out that we may be even better at it when we’re asleep.

. . . The wandering mind is by definition less engaged in the task at hand . . . and this disengagement can lead to poorer task-related performance. . . But when the mind wanders, it often meanders down avenues more interesting and more important than the one you’re currently on.

When we daydream, our attention becomes decoupled from the current environment and turns inward to our feelings and thoughts.

. . . Now, we know that mind-wandering can hamper memory performance on such tests. Does doodling offer some protection against this? The results of Andrade’s study: doodlers recalled 29 percent more information than nondoodlers did.

Anger: The Positive Negative Emotion

The reason anger changes our behaviors is that it changes the way we think. Ironically, it is this very fact that led early anger detractors to demonize the sin. As they saw it, anger’s power to distort perception and disturb reason was the heart of the problem. But on closer inspection, it is precisely because anger biases our cognition and perception that it serves us so well.

All emotions are signals of what is important in our immediate surroundings. Fear signals threat, and so encourages people to selectively attend to threatening stimuli, like snakes and spiders, and act in ways to diminish such threats. Anger also selectively biases our attention, but in a different way.

. . . Anger has evolved as an emotional gauge of injustice. When we see the rights of others trampled or someone get harmed, we get angry.

. . . As a reaction to goal blockage, anger triggers task persistence.

Envy: How Wanting What Others Have Makes You Happier, Smarter, and More Creative

. . . “Envy” and “jealousy” are often used interchangeably; they are not the same thing to psychologists. Envy involves wanting something that another person possesses–some quality or object. This is a two-person affair: the envier and the envied person, as well as the envied object or attribute.  . . . Jealousy, however is a three-way affair: I’m jealous of someone if they pose a threat of stealing another person away from me.

For social psychologists, envy is all about what we call “social comparison.” . . . When people are uncertain about their own abilities or attitudes, they compare themselves to others. We all engage in such comparison, all the time.

. . . envy can change your expectations about what it is possible to achieve.

. . . envying a role model might simply increase your general motivation to do well.

Pride: That Which Cometh Before Quite a Lot of Good Stuff

Pride has a rather strange history as a deadly sin. First of all, pride used to be two sins (pride and vainglory), not one, and although both were featured on early writers’ lists of nasty vices, they never fared very well in the rankings.

. . . But in A.D. 590, Pope Gregory upped pride’s sinfulness by dubbing it the source from which all the other vices derived their wickedness. . . . Vainglory, pride’s sibling, jumped to the number one spot.

Jessica Tracy, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, and Richard Robins of the University of California [marked two kinds of pride]  . . . The first kind of pride, marked by worthy achievement and success, Tracy and Robins called authentic pride. The second, with all its conceitedness and arrogance, they called hubristic pride.

. . . Samuel Gosling, a social psychologist from the University of Texas at Austin, has spent the better part of the last decade carefully studying the messages encoded in people’s possessions, their walks, and their clothes.

He can tell you that people with inspirational posters on their bedroom walls are neurotic, that people who swing their arms when they walk are extroverted, and that those with uncluttered offices are conscientious.

On the sartorial front there are the following encryptions: dark clothes – neurotic; formal dress – conscientious; messy and unconventional clothing – open to new things; cleavage and expensive clothes = narcissism, at least in women (male cleavage signals something altogether different).

. . . There are two kinds of pride, and the key to making the most of this queen of the deadly sins is to indulge the good and resist (at least for the most part) the bad.

Laham writes that BBC Focus magazine reported a worldwide survey that ranked the world’s most sinful countries. The following winners:

Lust: South Korea

Gluttony: United States

Greed: Mexico

Sloth: Iceland

Anger: South Africa

Envy: Australia

Pride: Iceland

According to a 2005 BBC survey, a contemporary list of deadly sins would read:

Cruelty, Adultery, Bigotry, Dishonesty, Hypocrisy, Greed, Selfishness

Laham ends the book by writing:

. . . almost any facet of human behavior–from genetic engineering to selfishness–is too complex, too multifaceted, and in the end often simply too functional to be given the label “sin.”


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