University of Chicago to study connections between religious beliefs and health

Apr 13, 2005

A belief in God may improve a person’s physical health, according to University of Chicago researchers who are launching the first comprehensive study to examine the relationship between religious attitudes and health.

The Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation has given the University $1.8 million to launch the study, which will be coupled with University work on aging supported with $7.5 million from the National Institute on Aging of the Department of Health and Human Services. That work is an interdisciplinary effort to understand the connections between longevity and loneliness. Religious belief, like social support, could have beneficial effects on people’s health, scholars contend.

Because the research is multi-disciplinary, including researchers in University of Chicago departments of Medicine, Psychology, Sociology, History, and Human Development, and the Divinity School, it provides a useful framework to study scientifically the connections between religious belief and health, said John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and the leader of both studies. Cacioppo is one of the nation’s leading experts on social relations and aging.

“The study is based on an evolutionary model of humans as social beings in which the motive to form and maintain attachments and interpersonal relationships is in part genetically determined,” Cacioppo said. As a result, people are born with the capacity for spirituality and humanity, Cacioppo said. The work will explore how this inclination to see a spiritual understanding, a relationship with God, varies among individuals because of social and environmental influences.

Measurable effects of strong spirituality, regardless of religion, are improved physiological functioning, health and well being, especially in difficult times, Cacioppo said. Those benefits of belief in God accrue over time and are an important aspect of dealing with aging, he said.

Subjects in the NIA project—the Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations Study—have been asked a battery of questions related to their health, exercise habits and emotions, as well as church attendance and religiosity.

For that study, the researchers began a series of day-long interviews and medical tests that began in 2002 and will continue through 2006. The study includes 230 African Americans, Hispanics and whites between the ages of 50 and 67 from Chicago and the suburbs. The researchers are gathering extensive medical histories, health assessments, health care utilization measures, health behaviors measures, sleep quality indices, personality measures and life events assessments.

Explore further: Small business owners not always worried about being treated fairly, researcher finds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

Apr 17, 2014

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

Apr 16, 2014

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

EU must take urgent action on invasive species

Apr 16, 2014

The EU must take urgent action to halt the spread of invasive species that are threatening native plants and animals across Europe, according to a scientist from Queen's University Belfast.

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

Apr 14, 2014

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Recommended for you

Bloody souvenir not from decapitated French king: DNA

15 hours ago

Two centuries after the French people beheaded King Louis XVI and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, DNA analysis has thrown new doubt on the authenticity of one such rag kept as a morbid souvenir.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.