Christian conversion linked to changes in psychological symptoms and personal values

New longitudinal research provides evidence that converting to Christianity is associated with some psychological changes.

“Religious conversion is a major life event that some people claim would bring big psychological changes,” said C. Harry Hui of The University of Hong Kong. “However, no research has systematically looked at it with a rigorous, longitudinal research design.”

The study, which was published in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, tracked 711 Chinese individuals from 2009 to 2012.

At the beginning of the study, there were 455 participants who were not Christians. But by the end, 46 of these non-Christians had converted to Christianity.

The researchers failed to find evidence that personality, social axioms, personal values, or psychological symptoms predicted conversion.

However, they did find that converts’ levels of anxiety and stress dropped over the 3-year period. The researchers also found evidence that converts’ personal values changed as well. In particular, they were more likely to endorse values like helpfulness, honesty, and forgiveness after converting.

“There are indeed important changes in one’s psychological symptoms and personal values as the person goes through the conversion process,” Hui told PsyPost.

The study — like all research — has limitations. It is still unclear if the findings can be generalized to other cultures and other religions.

“Our research team looked at only conversion to one particular religion. Would the same psychological changes occur if a person is converted to another religion, a cult, or a non-religion (e.g., atheism)?” Hui said. “More research is needed in this direction.”

The study, “In Search of the Psychological Antecedents and Consequences of Christian Conversion: A Three-Year Prospective Study“, was authored by C. Harry Hui, Sing-Hang Cheung, Jasmine Lam, Esther Yuet Ying Lau, Livia Yuliawati, and Shu-Fai Cheung.