Spirituality is Associated with Better Psychological Well-Being but also Cognitive Distortions
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“No causal link has been established, but higher levels of spirituality have been linked to increased compassion, strengthened relationships, and improved self-esteem.” – Psychology Today
Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health. Hence, it makes sense to study the relationships of spirituality with the individual’s characteristics to better understand how spirituality might influence psychological well-being.
In today’s Research News article “Spirituality, dimensional autism, and schizotypal traits: The search for meaning.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6407781/), Crespi and colleagues recruited undergraduate students and had them complete questionnaires measuring spirituality including subscales measuring belief in God, search for meaning, mindfulness, and security, and also autism traits including social skills, communication, attention to detail, attention switching, and imagination subscales, and also schizotypal traits including constricted affect, social anxiety, magical thinking, unusual perceptions, ideas of reference, eccentric behavior, and odd speech.
They found that the higher the total levels of spirituality the lower the levels of autism traits and the higher the levels of positive schizotypal traits. Of the spirituality subscales they found that the higher the belief in God the higher the levels of positive schizotypal traits, including magical thinking and unusual perceptions. Of the spirituality subscales they found that the higher the search for meaning the lower the levels of autism traits and the higher the levels of positive schizotypal traits, including magical thinking and unusual perceptions. Of the spirituality subscales they found that the higher the mindfulness the lower the levels of autism traits.
It should be kept in mind that the results are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. The findings suggest that spirituality, especially search for meaning and mindfulness, is associated with less autism traits suggesting healthier personalities. But they also suggest that spirituality, especially belief in God and search for meaning, is associated with greater positive schizotypal traits, particularly with magical thinking and unusual perceptions. These findings suggest that belief in God and search for meaning are associated with distorted cognitive processes.
In total, the findings suggest that spirituality is associated with some strengths in the personality but also with cognitive distortions. It is possible that adherence to particular religions (religiosity) may be the reason for the opposing findings. Indeed, this idea is supported by the fact that belief in God was associated with the cognitive distortions. Unfortunately, the present study did not measure religiosity. Hopefully, future research will include measurement of religiosity.
So, spirituality is associated with better psychological well-being but also cognitive distortions.
“There’s a lot of research linking health and more contentment with life, and having a regular spiritual practice. I personally can’t imagine getting through each day without connecting with my spiritual self, especially when life feels overwhelming or when I’m feeling a bit lost.” – Cara Howell
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/
They are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Crespi, B., Dinsdale, N., Read, S., & Hurd, P. (2019). Spirituality, dimensional autism, and schizotypal traits: The search for meaning. PloS one, 14(3), e0213456. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0213456
The relationships of spirituality with human social cognition, as exemplified in autism spectrum and schizophrenia spectrum cognitive variation, remain largely unstudied. We quantified non-clinical levels of autism spectrum and schizotypal spectrum traits (using the Autism Quotient and the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire-Brief Revised) and dimensions of spirituality (using the Hardt Spirituality Questionnaire) in a large sample of undergraduate students. We tested in particular the hypothesis, based on the diametrical model of autism and psychosis, that autism should be negatively associated, and positive schizotypal traits should be positively associated, with spirituality. Our primary findings were threefold. First, in support of the diametric model, total Spirituality score was significantly negatively correlated with total Autism Quotient score, and significantly positively correlated with Positive Schizotypal traits (the Schizotypal Personality Cognitive-Perceptual subscale), as predicted. Second, these associations were driven mainly by opposite patterns regarding the Search for Meaning Spirituality subscale, which was the only subscale that was significantly negatively associated with autism, and significantly positively associated with Positive Schizotypal traits. Third, Belief in God was positively correlated with Positive Schizotypal traits, but was uncorrelated with autism traits. The opposite findings for Search for Meaning can be interpreted in the contexts of well-supported cognitive models for understanding autism in terms of weak central coherence, and understanding Positive Schizotypal traits in terms of enhanced salience.