People who attend religious service are more positive - study

Those who attend church, synagogue or any other religious service regularly are more likely to have a positive outlook on life and a lower risk of having depression, a new study has found.

Those who attend religious services regularly are 56 per cent more likely to have an optimistic view of life and 27 per cent less likely to have depression than those who don’t, a study by Yeshiva University in Manhattan suggests.

Published in the current issue of the Journal of Religion and Health, the Women’s Health Initiative observational study is based on a survey of 92,539 post-menopausal women from diverse backgrounds and over the age of 50. This group was chosen as women generally live longer than men, and seniors are a growing group.

“We looked at the religious practices of nearly 100,000 women and – like it or not – found a strong connection between going to church or synagogue or any other house of worship and a positive outlook on life,” Medical News Today quoted research leader Eliezer Schnall as saying.

“We looked at a number of psychological factors: optimism, depression, cynical hostility, and a number of subcategories and subscales involving social support and social strain,” said Schnall, an associate professor of psychology at Yeshiva University.

“The link between religious activity and health is most evident in women, specifically older women.”

The researchers examined various aspects of support, such as sharing about difficulties with a priest or a rabbi, someone driving a participant to a doctor and positive interaction. They also looked at possible negative aspects that could cause a social strain – a relatively new inquiry in the field. For example, close association with a religious group can also dissuade one from interacting with people with a different belief.

“We did not find that those who attend religious services were characterised by additional social strain,” Schnall said.

However, “the person who says, ‘I guess if I go to services, that will make me more optimistic’ – while a possibility, that may not be true,” Schnall cautioned. “There is a correlation, but that does not mean there is causality. One could argue people who are more optimistic may be drawn to religious services.”

The study was funded by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the US Department of Health and Human Services.