Is Experimentally Increasing Religiosity Taboo?

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An abundance of evidence supports that high stress levels often predict poor health, and high levels of religiosity, broadly defined, predict good health. It is possible that one mechanism by which religiosity positively impacts health is by preventing or reducing stress response. Studies measuring Surrender (Surrender to God from a Christian Religious Tradition) have shown that religiosity measured in this way is consistently negatively related to stress levels in college samples and community samples of pregnant women. The next step toward investigating a possible causal mechanism of religiosity on stress level is to experimentally manipulate religiosity. If it is found that it is possible to experimentally increase religiosity, the stage is then set to endeavor to change health and influences on health, such as stress, by such an increase. Specifically religiosity could be manipulated to determine whether changes in religiosity actually affect stress levels. Although this is the normal progression when investigating the efficacy of medical treatments, there has been significant opposition to the manipulation of religiosity. It is understandable that attempting to reduce religiosity would be unethical, but if there are potential health benefits to increasing religiosity, this field of research would seem to be worthy of investigation. The research community has been resistant to fund or even to approve such studies. Even more surprisingly, the medical community, while embracing the use of pharmacological substances to improve health or reduce disease (even for pregnant patients), remains reluctant to even investigate the efficacy of prescribed increases in religiosity, which would represent less physiological risk. Why is there this specific prejudice against religiosity as an intervention? Is it due to the lack of an observable mechanism? There are medications for which the true mechanism of effect is unclear, yet they are used because of the value of the effect. Is it because of the potentially reduced need for medical or pharmacologic intervention? Is it because it is poorly understood by many health care providers? If the ethics regarding human subjects research are embraced, a study should illustrate the potential benefits for both participants and others that outweighs any potential harm to the participants. It seems that on that basis, such experimental studies of the effects of increased religiosity on health should be considered.


Chicago, IL

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