Study Examines Link Between Accountability to God and Psychological Well-Being

Summary: People who consider themselves more accountable to a god report higher levels of three of the four variables of psychological wellbeing. The association was stronger in people who pray more often, suggesting accountability accompanied with prayer enhances psychological wellbeing for believers.

Source: Baylor University

Religious believers who embrace accountability to God (or another transcendent guide for life) experience higher levels of three of the four variables of psychological well-being – mattering to others, dignity and meaning in their lives, though not happiness – according to a study from researchers with Baylor University, Westmont College and Hope College.

The study also found that this relationship is stronger among those who pray more often, suggesting that accountability coupled with communication may be a powerful combination for well-being.

The study, Perceptions of Accountability to God and Psychological Well-Being Among US Adults, appears in Journal of Religion and Health and relies on data from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey, a national survey of American religious beliefs, values and behaviors.

“A good deal of research examines how aspects of religious life such as church attendance, prayer and meditation are associated with psychological well-being, but no one has examined how feelings of accountability to God might play a role,” said lead author Matt Bradshaw, Ph.D., research professor of sociology at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR).

The study focuses on what the authors call theistic accountability. In this view, embracing accountability to God in a virtuous manner is distinct from mere conformity to the social norms of one’s religious group, the researchers wrote. Rather, people who welcome accountability to God seek to discern God’s will with wisdom in order to prosper and better understand their purpose in life.

“People who embrace theistic accountability see themselves as answerable to God,” said co-author Blake Victor Kent, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at Westmont College. “They welcome responsibilities that are associated with their faith and view accountability to God as a gift that helps them lead happy and successful lives. Accountability has been examined philosophically as a virtue relevant to the spiritual life, but until now no one had quantified it.”

The researchers used two items from the survey to assess accountability to God:

  • “I decide what to do without relying on God.” (Question was reverse coded in the analyses.)
  • “I depend on God for help and guidance.” 

“Why should we expect perceptions of accountability to God to be associated with well-being?” Bradshaw said. “It’s because humans are social creatures and our psychological health is bound up in positive and constructive relationships, not only with other people, but also with God.”

The study adds a new approach to a larger body of research in religion and health that has been building for several decades.

“So much of the research examines religious attendance,” Kent said, “and we certainly looked at that. But after confirming that church attendance was associated with our outcomes, we found that accountability to God helps explain a lot more of what is going on in that connection between religion and well-being.”

This shows a man praying in church
The study also found that this relationship is stronger among those who pray more often, suggesting that accountability coupled with communication may be a powerful combination for well-being. Image is in the public domain

For example, the researchers noted that the results for happiness were significant when they excluded other religious items from the analysis. This suggests that accountability matters but that it is also related to other facets of religious life such as the social aspects of attendance, which could matter more for happiness as part of a person’s psychological well-being.

“Further, it may be that happiness varies more on a daily basis compared with the other outcomes and may therefore be more strongly correlated with social and psychological factors that change quickly from day to day compared with relatively stable characteristics like accountability to God,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers plan to produce more work using the accountability to God framework, including the development of better ways to assess accountability, possibly providing a new avenue for understanding how religion and well-being can work hand in hand.

“Religious systems can impose external pressures on individuals to behave in particular ways,” said co-author Byron Johnson, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and ISR director, “but they also operate through individual yearnings, moral frames and religious impulses.”

In other words, accountability in the religious realm may help people internalize and act upon their moral obligations under the loving hand of God to good effect, Johnson said.

In addition to Bradshaw, Kent and Johnson, study authors included Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, Ph.D., of Hope College and Sung Joon Jang, Ph.D., and Joseph Leman, Ph.D., with ISR.

Funding: The research was made possible through the support of a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust (#0171). The authors also thank Paul Froese, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Baylor and director of the Baylor Religion Surveys, for providing access to the data.

About this neurotheology research news

Author: Lori Fogleman
Source: Baylor University
Contact: Lori Fogleman – Baylor University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Perceptions of Accountability to God and Psychological Well-Being Among US Adults” by Matt Bradshaw et al. Journal of Religion and Health


Perceptions of Accountability to God and Psychological Well-Being Among US Adults

This study examines whether accountability to God is positively associated with four measures of psychological well-being—happiness, mattering to others, dignity, and meaning—among US adults. It also tests the possibility that prayer moderates these associations. Data from the 2017 Values and Beliefs of the American Public Survey (n = 1251) were analyzed using multivariate regression.

Findings provided support for an association between accountability to God and mattering to others, dignity, and meaning in fully controlled models, and for happiness when religious controls were excluded. They also showed that these relationships were stronger among those who prayed frequently compared with those who did not.

Overall, these findings shed light on a new concept—accountability to God—including its association with psychological well-being.

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  1. Too much church makes me suicidal. I can’t keep being told I need to get saved. I can’t live up to the holier than people. The gossip and control in churches is deadly.

  2. Not surprising in the least. As a matter of fact heathen that I am, I kind of envy those people who don’t have to question, or doubt, and feel that they “know” what should be done according to God. Ah how I would love that, to delegate to a higher authority and not to have to analyze and act according to my own thoughts, feelings and sense of ethics and morality!

  3. Dignity is belief in better things to come. Never lose hope even when homeless. Pray to mature with more education and employment. Prayerful in daughters Salvation which may have been lost in a long court battle. I was never obsessed of her virginity nor paranoid she may die using tampons. Only concerned of her safety.

  4. Patriarchal Brotherhood Control Systems. Humans have been worshiping so-called god/gods for thousands of years,and all the while being super predators Thrill Killing animals AND human animals. Also waging war, raping, torchering, enslaving humans!!! No matter whether they worshipped a god. God is systems of control and manipulation by alpha males torule over females. Using them as work animals, sexual playthings, slaves AND Breeding Stock!!!!! Not that dissimilar to chimpanzees/Pan Trogladites.The human brain/cerebrum is a very sophisticated organ and processor. Among other things, able to conceive multiple concepts, analysis, which helps develop survival skills. We are still killers, even for fun and (“Community Social welfare!),”Human/animal Sacrifices to that God of yous!!!! That includes Cannibalism and blood drinking to please that so-called God. Human animals would paraphrase a quote attributed to decarte; “Mankind will never be free until tha last king is hung with the entrails of the last priest”. Must evolve forward. No killing and eating animal flesh and blood!

  5. Baylor universities motto is Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana
    Who takes this study seriously,. I mean come on ?

  6. So kids behave better when they have a dad watching that they know will thump them on the head with complete impunity? And that reality eventually makes them need to be thumped? Who knew?

  7. Real Religion matters most of all. And real religious leaders are few. The findings are not a surprise to me

  8. Fascinating article…I am one who plays lots. . and works part time due to work comp injury . and I depend on God to help with all my choices

  9. I question the validity of this so called study. Too many people in history, in the name of God have murdered thousands. People kill in the name of God and swear that they are pious. How many Christians follow false prophets? How many Christians do wretched things Mon-Sat, and find forgiveness on Sundays. There are PLENTY of spiritual people with empathy and compassion within who don’t do damage in the name of God, Plenty of people who don’t abuse, condemn and shame others. Having religion DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON.

  10. This study seems to be full of bias. Did you only study religious people? Did you study the well-being of non religious people? You can’t just study one group of people and concluded you are right without a control group. Who were the control group? Who were the non religious people in your study?
    All you proved is that religion and prayer can be used as a placebo. It doesn’t prove god at all.

  11. Can you trust anything that comes out of baylor? After all, the majority of these people are part of trump’s cult. Christian college is an oxymoron btw. This christian college in particular has had more scandals than chump’s short presidency. Scandals involving murder, murder covered up by basketball coaches, dozens of rapes, dozens of rapes covered up by football coaches and college administrators including a former United States AG (yep, this sanctimonious christain college protected student rapists and a murder because the perpetrators could shoot hoops and catch touchdown passes) and calling President Obama a terrorist. How can this bastion of christian values be trusted with the minds of our country’s young men and their lesser obedient women counterparts (this is what the bible says, not me)?

    1. I disagree this stateme you said something about Trump, Obama etc… they have nothing to do with any of this! That has nothing to do with Presidents past and present.

      1. The point is, this “study” can’t be trusted because as we’ve been bombarded with over the last 5 years, white evangelical christians cannot be trusted to tell the truth, know the truth when they see it, and conversely to know when they’re being lied to…hence the emergence of a lying conman like chump. They’re predisposed to believe utter nonsense, including the tens of thousands of lies chump told literally every time he opened his mouth. They lie to themselves every day, treat “others” with disdain, and then claim moral superiority because they believe in a fairy tale shoved down their throat since birth. After having said all that, you are free to believe whatever you want, but christians should stay away from science and the laws of the US government.

  12. The article includes the statement, “I depend on God for help and guidance.”
    FYI, nobody has ever been spoken to by a god in the history of the world because gods don’t exist.

    Understand, I take no pleasure in pointing out your naivety.

    Here’s a tip:
    How to prove to yourself that
    your god doesn’t exist:
    1 Think of another human god from another religion that you don’t believe in
    2 Determine which standards of proof that god does not meet to justify your lack of belief in it
    3 Apply those standards of proof requirements to your own god
    4 Wonder why you didn’t see this sooner.

    We are one human race and r belief in sky invisible friends has hindered our race’s progression.

    1. Lol this sound too Naive to hold a fact that the Big “G” GOD don’t exist …..

      The small “g” gods can can include you towards another if you have enough reason to be seen that way before that other

      I put it this way , the gods are those caved out from the human mind but God is not so ,he caved the human mind as a whole and should be submitted too

      Wrongs may be done by men who clamined to be related to God but it does not over-rule the true potentials of righteousness about God

      Don’t mean any harm ,only that I chose to point out that I was once upon a time foolish to believe that god’s and the God who created all things do not exist …but now I know better

  13. I think (therefore I am) that this article falls into the category of Wishful Thinking, based upon Faith, not science. The use of phrases like “may help people” and “may therefore be more strongly correlated “ should have no place in proving a truth. Happiness is a subjective “feeling”, and each individual’s definition of a mental state based upon variables too numerous to define or quantify in a definitive way. The authors of this particular study started with an assumption that there exists a given physical concept called The Hand of God which, to them, is incontrovertible but quite debatable as the concept termed Intelligent Design. This results in the rest of their study being more religious dogma and existing church propaganda confirming pseudoscientific ideas about positive personal outcomes guaranteed by using prayer regularly and attending church services as often as possible for the sake of their mental health. The purpose of this article “seems to be” singularly and merely, an attempt to, in the guise of the scientific method, reinforce contemporary Christian religious beliefs aimed at justifying church attendance to fill church coffers and financially benefit their clergy.

  14. When religious nuts do a study it’s always a positive to the non-existent God. YOU HAVE ZERO EVIDENCE OF GOD STOP BEING STUPID!!! You say Bigfoot doesn’t exist but at least track evidence has been found. Religion is retarded AF and so is your study. Zero evidence of God or you would present it! STFU until you have evidence of God! Church is a cult

  15. Would’ve been a better article if you had separated Christian beliefs from science.
    Religion has no place in science, medicine or politics.

  16. Great research. This research helps me to know how to live a happy life. Psychological wellness has become a luxury for us in last two years.thank you for shedding light on this much-needed issue.

  17. Sad excuse for science and a hilariously bad attempt to justify delusional thinking because of temporary satisfaction.

    Ask those same people how well they think they perceive reality. Then ask them questions about well-documented phenomenon and basic things about how the world works on practice for the majority of people. Guarantee you they’re so far off it’s laughable.

  18. When I stopped believing in god, my extreme ocd went away. It has been very nice. I also have much lower stress now.

  19. I just came here to also point out, if this study was done with Bible believers.
    Happiness is not biblical, but Joy is.

  20. This issue is beautifully dealt by
    Maudoodi in his book towards understanding Islam.

  21. BS. How many secular humanists did you study? None? Seems biased to me. Secular humanists base their morals on the well being of others. I know because I am one.

  22. I find the US focus on religion interesting but strange. I guess it is a product of high religious group migration to the US in the past. In Australia less than half the population report any specific religious connection.

    My parents met in the Salvation Army, but I’ve never really believed in any supreme being myself, even as a child or adolescent. I have, out of curiosity, attended various religious group services in he past but it has never made sense to me. I’m not anti-religious – my new wife is Catholic and we married in a Catholic Church to meet her need. (Both our past spouses had died and the Priest arranged an exemption for my having never been baptised.)

  23. Given the source and funding of this study, it cannot be regarded as conforming strictly to the scientific method!

  24. I totally agree. I am a part of a house of five women in their late fifties who are Christians who live together, kind of like the Golden girls. We’ve been here for 6 years and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without God. Five women in a kitchen would ruin most homes

  25. It seems like they’ve overlooked something very important. Perhaps their well being isn’t linked to accountability to god but to believing that he plays a large part in their decision making. It would make life easier to go around believing your diety backs all of your decisions.

  26. There’s been other misleading studies done before like how the alcohol industry funds studies that tell us alcohol is healthy for us when alcohol is a carcinogen and no amount of alcohol is considered safe to consume. That’s what this looks like to me. How do you decide which studies to amplify through your publication?

  27. Who did they study? Does this only apply to Christians? Is this remotely credible? Done by 3 Christian colleges, funded by Christians, published in a Christian journal so it seems highly misleading- possibly on purpose- and biased to me.

  28. Great articles, very interesting subjects. I’m a psychology student at FCU Florida. I very much appreciate your studies. Thanks.

  29. What is the effect on persons who do not believe in the concept of God?

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