Religion Prayer and Health

Recently, some research has examined the relationship between religion and health. For example, Jason Schnittker (2001) looked at the relationship between religious involvement and depression among a large group of U.S. participants. Consistent with Allport's assumptions, Schnittker found a U-shaped relationship between importance of religion in ones life and levels of depression, a relationship that may have resulted from a dichotomy between extrmsic and intrinsic religious orientations. Schnittker also found that people who sought spiritual help tended to have low levels of depression; that is, people who seek spiritual guidance are less depressed than those who do not seek such help.

A meta-analytic study by Michael McCullough and associates (McCullough, Hoyt, Larson, Koenig, & Thoresen, 2000) found religious involvement to be related to lower rates of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Such a relationship, of course, does not establish a causal relationship between religious involvement and health. Better health could just as well be due to psychosocial resources provided by religious involvement. For example, religious involvement is likely to expand ones circle of friends and thus increase the social support these friends provide. However, when McCullough et al. controlled for social support, their item analysis revealed a small but significant relationship between religious involvement and death rate; that is, people high in religious involvement were somewhat more likely to be alive at follow-up than were people low hi religious involvement. These findings hidicate that religious activity—independent of social support—is associated with a slight increase in ones span of life.

More recently, Richard Contrada and associates (Contrada et al., 2004) reported that cardiovascular patients with strong religious beliefs responded better after heart surgery than did patients with lower levels of religious beliefs. Patients with strong beliefs had fewer postsurgery complications and shorter hospital stays. Again, consistent with Allport s assumptions about extrmsic and intrinsic religious orientation, neither prayer nor attendance at religious services was positively related to surgical complications and length of hospitalization. Although these researchers did not measure extrinsic and intrinsic religious orientation, it is possible that people with an extrmsic religious orientation who are fachig the dangers of heart surgery may increase their level of prayer as a means of bargaining with a higher power.

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