Turning Religiosity Inward Has Outward Benefits for Youths

Religiosity is an area of interest in the mental health field. How this domain influences behaviors of young people is a question that has been researched quite extensively over the past several years. However, understanding how external religious attitudes and internal religious attitudes affect behavior has yet to be explored. It has been well established that positive religious beliefs can increase empathy and understanding in youth. Additionally, religious commitment and religious beliefs have been linked to lower rates of violence, sexual risk taking, and drug and alcohol use. It has even been determined that religiosity can help improve the academic performance of students.

Sam A. Hardy of the Department of Psychology at Brigham Young University was curious to examine this dynamic further. In a recent study, Hardy and his colleagues looked at what mechanisms of religiosity influenced the attitudes and behaviors of teens most significantly. For the study, Hardy interviewed over 500 young people ranging in age from 10 to 18 years old. He asked them about their religious commitment and level of religious involvement. He also assessed their behaviors and feelings regarding peer and family relationships using empathy and aggression as measures. In sum, Hardy examined how religiosity affected the overall moral identity of the participants.

After reviewing the online surveys, Hardy discovered that religious commitment was the primary indicator of empathy in the participants. Although many of them reported levels of religious involvement, those with the lowest levels of aggression and highest levels of empathy cited the highest levels of religious commitment. Not surprisingly, these young people were also the most likely to be involved in their religious communities, either as a consequence of or catalyst for their religious commitment. Regardless of the specific pathway by which these youths found their internal faith, it was this internal, not external factor, that led them to have higher moral standards and exhibit more productive external behaviors. Hardy added, “This adds to existing evidence that suggests that religiosity may facilitate identity formation and moral development processes, which might, in turn, yield positive social and behavioral outcomes for youth.”

Hardy, S. A., Walker, L. J., Rackham, D. D., Olsen, J. A. (2012). Religiosity and adolescent empathy and aggression: The mediating role of moral identity. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027566

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  • Lizzie


    April 20th, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    It is so important for parents to get their children involved from a very early age in church or synagogue or mosque, whatever the meeting site for your family may be. It is amazing how much of a support system, and second family, the church can become for your child. When you get them involved very early, they will know what it is like to be needed and loved, and from members of another community besides the immediate family at home. There is no better support than you will find from the home you make within your religious community.

  • coleman david

    coleman david

    April 20th, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    What about the kids who feel like religion has no place for them, like they are too different to be welcomed into the fold so to speak? These are still kids who can learn the importance of empathizing with others IF they have a family background that encourages this kind of behavior at home. Religion is not the only path that one has to take to feel like this.

  • LE


    April 21st, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    As a minister I can’t tell you how many times I have had young teens come to me for counseling, and for many of them, finding that link to God allows them to find the link to who they are and what they wish to become. It is so gratifying to know that there are young people who are beginning to see the importance of cherishing their religious traditions and finding something to believe in.

  • Pashma


    April 21st, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    if there is belief in something of a higher power then there is solace and comfort that you can then feel safe to share with others who need that same encouragement

  • Paul


    April 22nd, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    The one thing that we need to remember is that it is more than just going through the church doors any time they are open. You have to really believe and make the effort to embrace the reliogion and spirituality that is being taught. That is the only real way to get the most out of everything that church can bring to you, you have to work at it and be willing to accept.

  • aaron


    April 23rd, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    It is funny how religion can go from one end of the spectrum to the other.
    On one end of the spectrum you can have those who are of the mindset that they are in control of their lives, that there is no higher power in chanrge. Or if there is, they take responsibility for their own choices and actions.
    Then there are those at the other end who exhibit so much religious zeal and fervor that they almost think that everything is out of their control, that they have no say so over their actions.
    And then there are those in the middle who know that they owe a great deal to the higher power, but who also take responsibility for their decisions.
    These are the people who know too that they have a responsibility to other people in the world, and they try to keep this in mind in everything that they do. It is these people for who religion has made an impact on their lives in a positive way.

  • Starla


    April 23rd, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    I am convinced that finding religion saved me. I know that must sound cliche but it is the honest truth. I had no sense of who I was until I found God, and when I did everything else in my life fell into place. It was like that piece that had been missing. I was depressed and angry and at the end of my rope. Then I started reading and going to church because I felt like I had tried everything else so why not this? With my newfound spiritulaity I was able to see the things that I had in common with others, and not just the things that set us aprt. It was my wake up call to being a better person.

  • Natasha


    April 24th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    What about those who find religion stifling to who they are and their own personality?

  • Arnold.B


    April 24th, 2012 at 11:38 PM

    You see anything that teaches empathy and good values is an asset. Whether it is religious teachings or moral science classes, whatever makes someone a better person is always desirable and must be treated in a good way and encouraged.

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