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Is Being Religious Really Good for you? What Recent Scientific Studies Reveal David R. Williams, Ph.D., MPH, M.Div. Departments of Sociology & Epidemiology & Institute for Social Research University of Michigan Spirituality & Health Conference 2005 Adventist Health Professionals
David R. Williams, Ph.D., MPH, M.Div.
Departments of Sociology & Epidemiology
& Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Spirituality & Health Conference 2005
Adventist Health Professionals
Participants recalled a particular person who had mistreated, offended or hurt them. Then they were instructed via a computer to actively imagine unforgiving and forgiving responses toward the offender 8 times by following:
(1) a script that had them rehearse the hurt and harbor a grudge, and
(2) a script that had them empathize with the offender and grant forgiveness.
Physiologic measures were monitored
Witvliet et al. 2001
An unforgiving response was adversely related to sympathetic nervous system and cardiovascular functioning. During the unforgiving versus the forgiving response participants:
-felt more negative, aroused, angry and sad
-had greater brow tension(measured by electromyograms, EMG)
-had higher skin conductance level (SCL), heart rate and mean arterial pressure.
Witvliet et al. 2001
In a study of 279 HIV/AIDS-infected people, long-term survival was significantly related to all four dimensions of religiosity measured in the Ironson/Woods Spirituality/ Religiousness (SR) Index: faith in God, religious activity, sense of peace, and compassion toward others. Long-term survival was also positively related to frequency of prayer and inversely associated with judgmental attitude.
Additionally, religiousness was positively associated with reduced distress, more hope, social support, health behaviors, and lower cortisol levels.
Ironson et al. 2002
Ellison CG, et al. Are there religious variations in domestic violence? J Fam Issues 1999; 20(1):87-113.
400 prison inmates were followed for one year after their release:
One year follow-up:
Johnson et al. Justice Quarterly 1997;14:145-166
Analyses of data from a community sample of 1,139 adults in the Detroit Area Study found that belief in eternal life was positively associated with psychological well-being (but unrelated to psychological distress). This association remained significant after adjustments for other religious variables, demographic factors, stressors, social support and self-esteem and mastery.
Ellison et al. 2001
Ellison et al. 2001
A recent meta analysis of 147 studies that examined the association between religiousness and depressive symptoms concluded that higher levels of religious involvement was associated with fewer symptoms of depression. Although the association was robust, it was modest in size. Although the associations were not moderated by gender, age, or ethnicity, the association was stronger for studies of persons under stress. An extrinsic religious orientation and negative religious coping was associated with elevated symptoms of depression.
Smith, McCullough, & Poll 2003, Psychological Bulletin
A review of the epidemiological research which used a measure of frequency of religious attendance found:
- 81% showed benefit
- 15% were neutral
In a national sample of over 21,000 adults followed over 8 years, attendance is associated with mortality in a graded manner. People who never attend have 1.9 times the risk of death of people who attend more than once a week. The association exists for most causes of death.
At age 20 persons who attend more than once a week live 7.5 years longer than those who never attend. For blacks, the difference was 13.7 years.
Hurmmer,Rogers, Nam & Ellison 1999
Attendance was associated with a 30-35 percent reduced risk of death over a 7.5 year follow-up period in a national study of 3,617 adults . The effect was stronger for persons under age 60 than for those over 60.
This association remained robust after adjusting for many potential confounding and mediating variables (demographic and SES factors, baseline health, health practices, private religious activity, social support, religious beliefs & worldviews, fatalism, neuroticism, extraversion, self-esteem, self-efficacy and depression).
Musick, House & Williams, 2004
Wallace and Forman 1998; Monitoring the Future Study
A study of 954 Australian Year 11 and 12 students identified 26 activities of varying degrees of riskiness or dangerousness, including injecting heroin, sharing needles, binge drinking, smoking cigarettes, and speeding in cars. Overall, high levels of moderate risk taking were found across the sample.
Church-going youth had lower levels of risk- taking than the rest of the sample.
Abbott-Chapman and Denholm 2001
Eight male meditation teachers performed Yoga Nidra relaxation meditation (relaxed state in which the mind ‘withdraws’ from wishing to act) while undergoing PET scans. During this meditation-induced change of consciousness, dopamine release increased by 65%.
This is the 1st en vivo evidence for the regulation of conscious states at a synaptic level
Kjaer et al. 2002
59 breast and prostate cancer patients were enrolled in an 8-week program that incorporated relaxation, meditation, yoga, and daily home practice. Program participation was associated with decreased symptoms of stress, improved sleep patterns, and improved quality of life.
Participants also exhibited a change in cancer-related cytokine production, resulting in a shift from an immune profile associated with depressive symptoms to a more normal immune profile.
Carlson et al. 2003; 2004
A national study in the U.S. found that more religious participants (reading religious materials, watching or listening to religious programs, attendance) were rated by the interviewers as:
-More enjoyable to interview
-More open(less suspicious)
-Less bored and more interested in the interview
Study of the relationship between religion beliefs and providing help in an emergency.
-Belief in the accuracy of the Bible unrelated to helping behavior.
-Frequency of church attendance and prayer had no effect on helping behavior.
Religion does not necessarily translate into moral development.
In a longitudinal cohort study of 596 medically ill patients aged 55 or older, religious struggle was associated with greater risk of mortality. Specifically, patients who reported that they ‘wondered whether God had abandoned me;’ ‘questioned God’s love for me;’ ‘decided that the devil made it happen’; had a 19% to 28% increase in risk of dying during the 2-year follow-up period.
Pargament et al. 2001
25% Attend Church monthly or more often
61% Believe in God, other than just sometimes
67% Pray, including only praying occasionally
Peach 2003; Data from the 1980s
One third of Australian adults say their desire for a
spiritual life is very important or the most important
principle guiding their lives.
An additional third say it is ‘important’
Women value spirituality more than men
Education is positively related to valuing spirituality
Only 30% of those who value spirituality attend
religious services monthly or more
40% of those who value spirituality are Christians
(believe Bible; view Jesus as divine). They pray but the
majority feel that attending a church is not necessary
Christian Research Association: Spirituality; Australian Community Survey
Shahabi et al. 2002; 1998 General Social Survey
A study of the spiritual attitudes and needs of 79 psychiatric patients in NSW found that:
Schuster et al. 2001; Lindenthal et al. 1970
Koenig, McCullough & Larson 2001