The benefit of religion on higher social self-esteem

The benefit of religion on higher social self-esteem

By Liz Lockhart

Religious people are more inclined to feel good about themselves with a feeling of having higher social self-esteem and better psychological adjustment, according to recent research.

The study, which is published in Psychological Science, finds that these benefits are found only in countries that have high religious values.

The researchers examined data from a European dating site which matches clients with potential dates.  The dating site uses an extensive questionnaire to match their clients.  The questions include topics such as how psychologically well-adjusted people are and how important your personal religious beliefs are.

The researchers studied data from 187,957 people registered with the dating site.  Previous studies have suggested that more religious people have higher social self-esteem and are psychologically better adjusted.  It was thought that the reason for this was that religious people are better at attaining their own level of social values within religious societies.  This then should lead to better psychological adjustment and higher social self-esteem.

The study centred on people who lived in eleven different European countries.  Sweden was considered to be the least religious country whilst Poland was found to be highly religious as many Polish people are devoutly Catholic.  The researchers compared people’s answers to assess how religious the different countries were and then compared the countries.

The study suggests that believers only get the psychological benefits of being religious if they live in a country which values religion.  For believers who live in countries where most people are not religious, it was found that there was no feeling of higher selfl-esteem.

‘We think you only pat yourself on the back for being religious if you live in a social system that values religiosity’ said researcher Jochen Gebauer of the Humboldt University of Berlin. ‘So a very religious person might have high social self-esteem in religious Poland but not in Sweden’.

The researchers in this study made comparisons between different countries but in another study a similar effect was found within one country where students at religious and non-religious universities were compared.

‘The same might be true when you compare different states in the U.S. or different cities,’ Gebauer says. ‘Probably you could mimic the same result in Germany, if you compare Bavaria where many people are religious and Berlin where very few people are religious.

The study was conducted by Jochen Gebauer of the Humboldt University in Berlin, Constatine Sedikides of the University of Southampton and Weibke Neberich of Affinitas GmbH in Berlin.  The paper is entitled ‘Religiosity, Social Self-Esteem and Psychological Adjustment: On the Cross-Cultural Specificity of the Psychological Benefits of Religiosity.' 

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