Summary: Those who score high for neuroticism and stress have a reduced risk of developing depression if they follow the five precepts of Buddhism, a new study reports.
A new study suggests that people with high levels of neuroticism and stress may be at greater risk for depressive symptoms, but those links could be buffered for people who observe the five precepts of Buddhism—a fundamental system of ethics for the religion’s followers.
Nahathai Wongpakaran of Chiang Mai University, Thailand, and colleagues present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on November 30, 2022.
The five precepts of Buddhism guide followers not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, tell ill-intentioned lies, or use intoxicants.
Previous research suggests that observing the five precepts can boost well-being and quality of life for the general public, including nonserious followers. However, it has been less clear whether the five precepts could ease symptoms of depression for those at higher risk.
To address this question, Wongpakaran and colleagues focused on known links between neuroticism, stress, and depression. Prior research has shown that greater neuroticism is associated with greater risk of depression, both directly as well as indirectly through perceived stress—how people think and feel after stressful life events.
From late 2019 through September 2022, the researchers conducted an online survey of 644 adults in Thailand. The survey included standard questionnaires to measure each participant’s levels of perceived stress, neuroticism, and depressive symptoms, as well as their observance of the five precepts of Buddhism.
Statistical analysis of the survey results showed that observing the five precepts to a high degree appeared to buffer the influence of perceived stress on depression.
These results suggests that people with high levels of neuroticism and stress may be less likely to develop depressive symptoms if they follow the five precepts closely.
The researchers note that, while their study suggests potential benefits for the five precepts in the context of depression, it does not confirm a cause-effect relationship.
A large proportion of participants were female and people who lived alone, and participants’ religious involvement was unknown, although 93.3% reported that they were Buddhist.
More research will be needed to determine whether these findings might extend to the general population of Thailand and beyond, as well as to non-Buddhists.
The authors add, “The five precepts practice makes other people feel safe, as all these behaviors are harmless, and it potentially provides the stressful practitioner with a buffer against depression.”
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Moderating role of observing the five precepts of Buddhism on neuroticism, perceived stress, and depressive symptoms
Evidence has shown that the Five precepts significantly affect the relationship between attachment and resilience; however, little is known whether observing the Five Precepts would help reduce depressive symptoms among those who experience risks. The aim of this study was to examine the moderating role of the Five Precepts in the mediation model relationship among neuroticism, perceived stress, and depression.
Patients and methods
The study employed a cross-sectional survey design and data were collected from the end of 2019 to September 2022 in Thailand. In all, 644 general participants completed questionnaires on the Neuroticism Inventory (NI), the 10-item Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), Depression Subscale, and the Five-Precept Subscale of the Inner Strength-based Inventory (SBI-PP). Mediation and moderation analyses with 5000 bootstrapping methods were used.
Among all, 74.2% were female, and the mean age totalled 28.28 years (SD = 10.6). SBI-PP was shown to have a moderation effect on the relationship between NI, PSS and depressive symptoms. The moderating effect between SBI-PP and PSS was significant, whereas SBI-PP and NI was not. The index of moderated mediation from the Five Precepts was significant (b = -0.019 (95%CI -0.029, -0.009)). The moderated mediation model increased the percent variance explaining depressive symptoms to 47.6%, compared with 32.6% from the mediation model alone.
Observing the Five Precepts offers evidence that it buffers the effect of perceived stress on depression. People with high levels of observing the Five Precepts are less likely to develop depressive symptoms. Implications as well as possible future research are discussed.