5643145740_6d260e8624_zEvery once in a while, an uber-religious conservative stumbles onto my Twitter feed and tries to stick it to me with some fire-and-brimstone BS. The latest such troll professed that only two sides exist: “god’s eternity,” or “ego-centered self.” This mirrors one of the most common myths about non-believers: Without a god to tell us how to behave, we have no moral compass.

To me and other non-believers, this is plainly ludicrous. I try my best to help people and other animals, protect the planet and prevent harm (I even set up a cruelty-free contraption so I would’t have to kill those pesky fruit flies).

Still it’s always nice to have evidence, so I was happy to so see this study showing that non-religious folks are more likely to act out of compassion than their highly religious counterparts (it’s a couple of years old now, but new to me and interesting enough to share).

The study had multiple parts. In one test, about 100 adults watched two videos: one neutral, and one heart-wrenching (showing poverty-stricken children). Participants were then given 10 “lab dollars,” and could hand as much of it as they wanted to a stranger. The least-religious gave away more money after the emotional video than the highly religious.

In another test, more than 200 college students were asked how compassionate they felt at the moment, and then played games in which they were given money to share as they wished. The least religious, most compassionate-feeling people doled out the most cash.

“Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” said study co-author Robb Willer.

Obviously, plenty of religious people do good things, but the most devout believers could be motivated more by duty and doctrine than compassion (but that’s best left for another study).

At any rate, the evidence is clear: you don’t need religion to be a decent human being.