Religion can be a significant, comforting part of many peoples’ lives and has been linked to positive mental health outcomes. A study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion suggests a more complicated relationship between religion and psychological wellbeing by focusing specifically on attachment to God.
Some heavily researched aspects of religion, such as salience and service attendance, have been shown to be associated with increased life satisfaction and decreased depression. Despite this positive relationship, religion has so many different aspects that it is difficult to ascertain if this relationship would be shown in conjunction with other parts. This study focuses on attachment to God and employs attachment theory to understand the relationship between this attachment and mental health.
Researchers W. Matthew Henderson and Blake Victor Kent used data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey, which included relevant information from 1,624 adult participants. This study utilized distress measures for dependent variables, including general distress, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion. Attachment to God, the independent variable, was measured using a nine-item scale that included questions such as “I feel that God is generally responsive to me.”
The authors of this study hypothesized that uncertainty in attachment to God would be related to higher levels of emotional distress and the results supported this. This study showed that participants who felt anxiously attached to God experiences higher levels of all of the distress measures utilized. The curvilinear relationship suggests that people who are securely and avoidantly attached to God experience less distress. Avoidant attachment had been shown as detrimental in previous research, but this study suggests that since much of the population aren’t socialized to believe in God or religion, it can be an appropriate and not distressing type of attachment for many.
“Essentially what we found is that those who are less avoidant and those who are more avoidant in their relationship with God both have lower levels of psychological distress,” Henderson explained in a news release.
“That challenges the existing research. These data suggest it’s only those in the middle, those who experience uncertainty in the relationship with God, and not the avoidant, that have worse mental health.”
This study took significant steps into further understanding the link between religion and well-being. Despite this, it has a few significant limitations. One such limitation is that the authors used data from over a decade ago, and it is distinctly possible that results would be different now, as society is everchanging. The sample gathered using the BRS is 86% Christian, which also makes it difficult to know if these results would generalize to other religions.
The study, “Attachment to God and Psychological Distress: Evidence of a Curvilinear Relationship“, was published December 9, 2021.