The Gap between Psychology and God

A Harvard psychologist is developing evidence-based treatments for the devout

Sarah Estes Graham and Jesse Graham

A recent study led by Harvard Medical School’s David Rosmarin was undertaken to close this gap between the sacred and the profane in clinical practice. Studying hundreds of devoutly religious Jews and Christians, the researchers explored what religious cognitions can lead to more or less worry. Specifically, they found that mistrust in God (measured by agreement with statements like “God is unkind to me for no reason”) was associated with nearly clinical levels of worry, while trust in God (measured by agreement with statements like “God is compassionate toward human suffering”) was associated with less worry. Interestingly, trust and mistrust in God were not just opposite ends of one attitudinal dimension; it’s possible for believers to have high levels of both simultaneously.

Across two studies – one of which measured changes in worry and religious cognitions over a two-week intervention period – the researchers also found that the effects of trust and mistrust in God on worry took place via the mechanism of tolerance of uncertainty. Mistrust in God led to less tolerance of uncertainty (e.g., feeling upset when stuck with ambiguous information), which in turn led to increased levels of worry. Increasing trust in God, however, led to more tolerance of uncertainty, decreasing levels of worry.

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