"People who feel lonely are more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether that is God, angels or miracles, a new study finds. [...] In their study, detailed in the February issue of the journal Psychological Science, Epley's team tried to induce feelings of loneliness in people to see how it affected how they thought of pets and their belief in religious figures.[...]The participants were then asked to rate their belief in the same supernatural agents in the other study, and those in the "lonely group" reported stronger belief than those in the "connected group." The results were also compared to ratings the participants gave before they got their life predictions, and those who reported a belief in God before and were made to feel lonely reported a stronger belief after the experiment.
"We found that inducing people to feel lonely made them more religious essentially," Epley told LiveScience, though he notes it won't cause any sudden conversions."LiveScience, 24 January 2008
Of course, instead of having the balls to say that Jesus is nothing more than a fantasy friend, the researchers go straight for the good old "religion is beneficial" conclusion:
""There are health benefits that come from being connected to other people, and those same benefits seem to come from connection with pets and with religious agents, too," Epley said."
Can you say surrogate?