A Paper: Does Spirituality Help in Dealing with Financial Stress?

The journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality has accepted a paper from us. Its lead author is Ian Gutierrez, a talented graduate student in Psychology here at UConn.

Title: “When the Divine Defaults: Religious Struggle Mediates the Impact of Financial Stressors on Psychological Distress”

Authors: Ian A. Gutierrez, Crystal L. Park, and Bradley R.E. Wright

Abstract: It is generally assumed that religion provides support, strength, and solace to those grappling with financial difficulties. Recently, however, scholars have found evidence of harmful effects of religion by way of negative religious coping and religious or spiritual struggle. To date, these potentially negative phenomena have not been studied in the context of coping with financial stressors. Using intensive longitudinal data collected twice daily for 14 days from 439 participants, we explored whether and how religious struggle with the divine factors into the relationship between financial hardship and distress. Chronic financial stress, as measured by inability to pay bills on a routine basis, had a direct effect on depression, whereas acute financial stress did not. Religious struggle with the divine mediated the effect of acute financial stressors on depression but not the effect of chronic financial stress on depression. These findings suggest that financial hardship impacts well-being by way of religious struggle in the short term, but that spiritual struggle has less impact on the relationship between financial hardship and well-being in the long term. The implications of these findings are discussed.

More Good News: Another Paper Accepted

The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology has accepted this really interesting paper spearheaded by Crystal Park, here at UConn. It examines a great question: Do stress events wipe us out or does being wiped out lead us into more stressful events.

Title: Reciprocal Relations between Daily Stressful Events and Self-control Depletion. An Experience Sampling Study

Authors: Crystal L. Park, Bradley R. E. Wright, Jeremy Pais, and D. Matthew Ray. University of Connecticut.

Abstract: Background and Objectives. People with higher levels of self-control experience fewer stressful life events, but little is known about the reciprocal relationships between self-control and stressful life experiences. This study aimed to tested linkages between daily stressors and self-control depletion Methods. We collected web-based survey data twice daily for 14 days from 1,442 participants across the United States. Results. Daily stressors predicted subsequent self-control depletion and self-control depletion predicted daily stressors. Further, the overnight effects remained for self-control depletion on stressors but diminished for the effects of stressors on self-control depletion. Depletion had its weakest impact on participants who reported high mean levels of stressors. Conclusions. These results suggest that stressful events and self-control depletion may create negative spirals, but that these negative spirals can be mitigated by sleep. Further research is needed to better understand more about the reciprocal associations between self-control depletion and daily stressors and potential interruptions of these associations, such as sleep or self-control-enhancing events.

SoulPulse featured on the Research on Religion Podcast

Tony Gill, who does such a great just with the Research on Religion podcast, had me on his show last week to discuss SoulPulse. It’s a chance to go into depth about the logic and methodology of SoulPulse as well as a review of some of our findings. And, as always, Tony is really funny.

You can listen to it here.

Good News: We Got Our First Paper Accepted

The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion has accepted our paper on day-to-day spirituality. These things take awhile, so it will be 2017 before it’s published, but we’re very excited. Great job Jaime!

Title: States and Traits of Spiritual Awareness by Time, Activity, and Social Interaction

Authors: Jaime Kucinskas, Hamilton College, Bradley R.E. Wright and D. Matthew Ray, University of Connecticut, and John Ortberg, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

Abstract: Using data from a nationwide, smartphone-based experience sampling study, we examine the ebb and flow of spiritual awareness in day-to-day life. We focus on the prevalence of spiritual states and traits, and conditions under which they occur. This both complements and builds upon previous survey studies that have focused on stable spiritual traits. Using multilevel regression, we found systematic variation in spiritual awareness both across people and within people’s daily experiences as they relate to time, activity and social interactions. Participants’ spiritual awareness varied modestly over the course of the day, being highest in the morning. Spiritual awareness also varied by daily activities. It was highest when participants engaged in spiritual activities such as praying, worshiping, and meditation. It was high when they listened to music, read, or exercised as well. Spiritual awareness was low when people were shopping, watching television or at work. In addition, spiritual awareness was somewhat higher when participants were with other people, especially their friends. Importantly, the relationship between daily activities and spiritual awareness varied by whether actions and who people spent time with were measured “in the moment” or over time.

Is Spirituality a Trait or a State

Here’s a video of a talk that I gave at Baylor. It’s based on the first article coming out of SoulPulse, which looks at the day-to-day patterning of being aware of God. (Lead author is Jaime Kucinskas at Hamilton College). Enjoy!

Our feelings of love, joy, and peace vary by how well we sleep

In our previous blog we took the 6,100 Soulpulse respondents data and compared the experience of God’s presence (in other places we call it closeness to God) by the quality and quantity of sleep.  Today we are taking the data in the same sample and comparing the subjective experience of love, joy, and peace with sleep.  Using ESM smartphone methodology, respondents were asked twice each day to report their experience of love, joy, and peace.  Here is a histogram on those results compared with the quality of sleep:


As you can see, there is a slight trend towards experiencing (subjectively, or in John Ortberg’s words “the experiencing self, not the remembering self”) more love, joy, and peace with better sleep quality.  As mentioned in the previous blog, data like this in the entire sample suggests attention to sleep quality can enhance experience of what the Soulpulse researches call “spiritual fruit” (love, joy, peace).

How Does Sleep Affect How We Feel God’s Presence?

We took 6,100 surveys from the SoulPulse data and asked on a scale from 1-10 how close people felt to God (at this moment I feel God’s presence) two times each day for a two week period. When we compared the answers to questions about sleep we found the following results.

Here is a histogram of feeling close to God correlated to perceived quality of sleep:
Graph5-Close to God by quality of sleep

As you can see, the more respondents felt they had “quality sleep” the more they generally report feeling close to God. When one of the chief authors of SoulPulse, John Ortberg, saw his results, his discovery on this factor immediately increased his attention to his sleep habits. He noticed that his experience of God’s presence was even more dramatically affected by sleep quality than the trend shown by the overall sample in the above graph.

When we asked the same sample about the closeness to God correlated with the number of hours sleep there did not seem to be any trend of significance, as you can see from this histogram

Graph3-Close to God by hours slept

So according to our data sleep does effect experiencing the presence of God, but much more so in terms of quality than quantity. What do you think accounts for this? And how would you differentiate a quality night’s sleep from quantity hours of sleep?

Next time we will look at SoulPulse data on how the experience of love, joy, and peace (what we call spiritual fruit) is affected by both quality and quantity of sleep.

Do Women and Men Differ in Feeling Close to God?

Women and men experience spirituality in different ways. Drawing from SoulPulse data, we took 6,100 surveys in which participants responded to the statement “I feel close to God” at this moment, with zero being “not at all” and ten being “very much.” It turns out that in terms of average levels, there’s no significant difference. Both the women and men in the SoulPulse sample scored about 6 out of 10. But there was another difference. Below are two histograms: The one of the left plots the distribution for women participants, and the one on the right for men. They have different distributions.


Namely, women reported more variation in their feeling close to God. Some women sometimes reported being at 1 of 10, the lowest possible score, and other women at other times reported being at 10 out of 10–the highest possible score. In fact, 15% of women’s scores were at the highest level. Men also ranged from lowest to highest, but they were much more likely to come in around the average. Put differently, the women in our sample were more likely to run hot or cold to God, and men were more likely to be warm.

How would you explain this difference?

(Feel free to download and share this figure)

Lessons Learned from SoulPulse: A Smartphone-Based ESM Study of Spirituality: A Forthcoming Chapter

Roger Finke and Christopher Bader are putting together an exciting new book on methodological innovations in the study of religion. They kindly invited us to contribute a chapter about SoulPulse, and it will come out in 2017. Here’s a description of our chapter:

Title: Lessons Learned from SoulPulse: A Smartphone-Based ESM Study of Spirituality

Authors: Bradley R.E. Wright, Richard Blackmon, David Carreon, and Luke Knepper

Abstract: SoulPulse is an ongoing, experience sampling method study of spirituality that uses participants’ smartphones to collect data over a two-week period. Launched in late 2013, it is a new approach for studying spiritual and religious experiences. In creating it, we had few resources to guide us, and so we went through a lot of trial and error. In this chapter we review some of the lessons that we learned. This guides both researchers wanting to use or evaluate this methodology. These lessons relate to how often to administer surveys and questions within surveys, creating suitable measures, designing an appealing software interface, recruiting participants, and analyzing the uniquely structured, multilevel data generated by this approach.