Mason Ming and Scott Richards, CP&SE
Religiousness has gained more attention in psychological research and literature in the past few decades (Allen & Heppner, 2011; Cervantes & Parham, 2005; Worthington et al., 2003). Richards and Bergin (1997) noticed a spiritual energy in the United States that has “created a powerful cultural demand for psychotherapists to be more aware of and sensitive to religious and spiritual issues” (p. 6). The burgeoning interest in religiousness has resulted in psychological researchers studying the effects of religiousness on mental health (Oldham, 2009), and have found varying results across time. Early research on the topic of religiousness and mental health, conducted in the 1970’s, suggested that religiousness had both a positive and negative effect on mental health. However, the most recent research suggests that the effect is more positive than negative (if negative at all).
An important distinction to make lies in the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as it relates to religion. To intrinsically religious (IR) individuals, religion is the master motive and driving force in their lives. Thus, an intrinsically motivated person internalizes their religion and strives to follow it fully; in contrast an extrinsically motivated religious individual may be concerned with external consequences or rewards. Byrd, Hageman, and Isle (2007) determined that intrinsic religious motivation is not just a reflection of a more general intrinsic motivational factor, but a distinct form of intrinsic motivation outside of a secular sphere. Individuals who live their religion as their master motive (intrinsic) experience more consistent positive health outcomes than their extrinsically motivated counterparts.
Numerous studies have noted that intrinsically religious individuals enjoy: less emotional distress (Bergin, 1983), less premature mortality (Clark, Friedman, & Martin, 1999), more happiness (Clark, Friedman, & Martin, 1999), less schizotypal personality traits (Power & McKinney, 2014), less hostility (Power & McKinney, 2014), a higher quality of life (Steffen, 2014; Mosqueiro, da Rocha, & de Almeida Fleck, 2015), more resilience (Steffen, 2014), less maladaptive perfectionism (Steffen, 2014), and more subjective well-being (Aghababaei, Sohrabi, Eskandari, Borjali, Farrokhi, & Chen, 2016). This list of benefits is growing larger as more research has been published on the relationship between IR and mental health. The outcome factors for this study were anxiety and depression, meaning that we wished to see how IR related to depression and anxiety.
Of the studies that have been conducted, researchers have found that the relationship between intrinsic religiousness and depression is relatively weak. The same has been found for IR and anxiety. Thus, this study was focused on finding possible moderators that could strengthen this relationship. The proposed moderators were: positive religious coping, daily religious experiences, and meaning in life.
Koenig, Pargament, and Nielson (1998) conceptualized positive religious coping (PRC) as the utilization of religious beliefs or behaviors to deal with problems when circumstances exceed resource limits. Others define it as the extent to which God or a higher power is viewed in a benevolent or positive light in our lives (Fetzer, 1999). According to Debats (1990) meaning in life (ML) is defined as having a framework for meaning and feeling fulfilled in that meaning. Others have conceptualized it as the sense of purpose in life through the presence of meaning or the search for meaning in life (Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006). Daily religious experiences (DRE) refers to the frequency and intensity of an individual’s connection with God or a higher power that are common to everyday life (Johnstone, McCormack, Yoon, & Smith, 2012).
We hypothesized that IR would have a lessening effect on depression and anxiety scores and that these moderators would strengthen this relationship.
The measures for this study were developed through the Understand Thyself Survey, a cross-sectional web-based survey constructed at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. The data collection for our sample was completed at Brigham Young University (BYU) in order to analyze a sample of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) who were attending BYU, a University sponsored by the LDS church. Participants were 688 students between the ages of 17 and 58 (M = 21); 34.6% were male, 58.3% were female, and 7.1% did not report their gender. The majority of the participants were Caucasian (80.8%) and identified as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (91.9%). Data were collected via convenience sampling from undergraduate classes through the SONA system.
Our results indicated that the participants who scored higher on the intrinsic religiousness test tended to have lower depression scores and lower anxiety scores as well. This finding is consistent with previous research, and was in line with our hypothesis. Again, however, our findings showed that the relationship was relatively weak (r= -.19 to -.24).
Our moderation analysis revealed that meaning in life was the only significant moderator between intrinsic religiousness and depression. This means that the participants who scored high on the intrinsic religiousness test and the meaning in life test tended to show a significantly less amount of depression. Further research in required to find more moderators of the relationship.