In this issue

2012 student award winners

The winning abstracts showcase some of the excellent work by students in the field of the psychology of religion and spirituality

In 2012, the Executive Committee of Division 36 decided to award exceptional graduate and undergraduate student research presented at the APA national convention with recognition through student awards. A subcommittee of Division 36 executive committee members chose the winners, which was no simple task. The winning abstracts are presented below and showcase some of the excellent work by students in the field of the psychology of religion and spirituality.

Christian religion through the lenses of the cognitive sciences: An initial coding and experimental evaluation

The minimal counterintuitiveness (MCI) hypothesis suggests that ideas that violate intuitive expectations have an advantage in memory, as long as the violations are minimal. 1 Religious systems often involve ideas and concepts that violate intuitive expectations, such as divine agents that are omnipresent and invisible. This hypothesis predicts which religious ideas and systems are likely to be culturally transmitted. The dual-processing model of religious thought proposes a two level structure of cognition; an explicit, offline processing developed by deliberate thought and an implicit, online process that develops real-time interpretation, explaining how religious beliefs are cognitively constructed.2 Together they give us insights into religious belief, yet have not been applied to the Judeo-Christian religion. The current study will code Old Testament narratives, hypothesizing that they will regularly depict agents and objects with 1 to 3 counterintuitive properties in accordance with the MCI hypothesis. An experimental recall task will compare Christians’ online reasoning about God to their offline theology. A divergence between beliefs professed under a cognitive-load will empirically verify the dual-processing model in a Judeo-Christian context. This will demonstrate that Christians employ two levels in their thinking about God: an explicit or theological level and an implicit, cognitively optimum level. The current study expects to present experimental verification for these theories. Without experimental data and coding of prevailing religious forms, including religious narratives and cognitions, the explanatory power of the MCI hypothesis and the dual processing model are severely limited.


Barrett, J.L. (1999). Theological correctness: Cognitive constraint and the study of religion. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 11(4): 325–339

Tremlin, T. (2005). Divergent Religion: A dual-process model of religious thought, behavior, and morphology. In H. Whitehouse & R. N. McCauley (Eds.), Mind and religion: Psychological and cognitive foundations of religiosity (pp. 69-83). Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press.

About the student

Gary J. Phillips is a senior psychology student at Biola University. Interested in Christian theology and psychology, he founded a student organization to foster the discussion of faith and psychology, and hosted an event that presented various viewpoints on the issue. Active in research he presented the paper, "Seeking forgiveness: Emotional & decisional forgiveness from the perspective of the transgressor" at the Psi Chi Whittier Student Research Conference and is currently a research assistant for Dr. John Williams, studying emotional regulation and forgiveness. Gary plans to attend graduate school for a PhD in social psychology, while maintaining his interest in Christian history & theological studies.

Spiritual discourse between parents and children: A cross-cultural examination

It is widely accepted that the family is the most immediate and influential context on children's religious and spiritual development (RSD) (Boyatzis, 2005; Boyatzis, Dollahite, & Marks, 2006). Though parents may influence their children's RSD through various means, research has shown that one of the primary processes of such influence is what we are calling parent-child spiritual discourse, the natural conversations between parents and children about spiritual, religious, and metaphysical issues (Boyatzis & Janicki, 2003; Dollahite & Thatcher, 2008). Despite accumulating evidence that parents are important in children's RSD, we still know little about how parents influence children's religiosity, how often parent-child spiritual discourse occurs, and the content of these interactions. Traditional views assume parents influence children in some unilateral P¨C fashion (see Boyatzis, 2005, 2012 for a critique). A more valid contemporary view is a bidirectional model (Kuczynski, 2003) characterized by a reciprocal exchange between P.C, in which child¨parent influence also occurs. However, there are few data on how children influence their parentsf personal development in many domains, including their religiosity and spirituality. My study investigates these issues.

In addition, my study uses a cross-cultural approach to understand these topics by comparing Danish and American mothers in their parent-child spiritual discourse and in how their spirituality has been affected by their children. Denmark is an intriguing culture to study. First, Denmark is an interesting case religiously as 80% of Danish citizens are technically members of the Danish (Lutheran) Church but only 2.5% attend church weekly (Kirkeministeriet, 2011) and only 31% believe in God (EuroBarometer, 2005), numbers that show a stark cultural contrast to the US. As far as we can tell, this will be the first study to assess Danish mothers’ spirituality and compare how Danish and American mothers’ spirituality is affected by their children.

Data collection has begun in Denmark and the US with mothers who have at least one child between ages 4 and 12. Thus far we have interviewed 6 Danish mothers in Copenhagen and hope to interview many more and have interviewed 17 American mothers. We are measuring parent-child spiritual discourse with a mixed-methods approach using three measures. First, mothers complete an on-line Qualtrics survey (Boyatzis & Janicki, 2003) on many aspects of parent-child spiritual discourse. Then mothers come to our laboratory with their children and complete two measures. Mothers participate in a semi-structured interview to assess child effects on their spirituality, and then complete a (videotaped) structured task in which the mother and child together read a children’s book or watch a brief animated video, both used to stimulate spiritual discourse between mother and child. This combination of quantitative and qualitative data should provide informative insights—from two different cultures—into the quality of parent-child communication about spiritual and religious issues as well as how these interactions affect parents’ and children’s spirituality.

Philip Bonanno is currently a Master’s degree candidate at Bucknell University working with Division 36 past-president, Dr. Chris Boyatzis. Together, they are researching parent-child spiritual discourse and its impact on mothers’ spirituality after having children. Philip graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2011 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience and conducted research with Dr. Crystal L. Park on the links between the ideal self, goal motivation, and moderating personality traits. Philip has been exploring spirituality devoutly for 7 years and is a practicing Reiki master teacher, yogi, and musician. He currently aspires towards osteopathic medicine, but lives by the idea that “life is a journey” and is open to where it will take him.

Spirituality and coping among youth with cancer and their caregivers


Cancer affects over 12,000 youth in the United States and remains a leading cause of death. Survival rates have increased, but effects of aggressive treatment protocols and illness-related disruptions to development put these youth at risk for adjustment difficulties. Spiritual beliefs represent a unique set of cognitions that are important to individuals with serious illness, and play a specific role in adjustment beyond secular methods of cognitive coping. However, these relationships have not been examined in youth with cancer. The present study aims to qualitatively explore the spiritual themes and strategies these youth use to cope and to quantitatively examine the relationships between spiritual coping and psychosocial adjustment among patients and their caregivers.


Youth with cancer (8–18 years) and their primary caregiver will be recruited to participate. Patients will be stratified into two groups, newly diagnosed and 12-months post-diagnosis.


Patients will complete a semi-structured interview and two drawings to illustrate coping. Caregivers and patients will also complete measures of spirituality and adjustment.

Proposed analyses

Semi-structured interviews and drawings will be coded for themes as outlined by Pendleton et al. (2002) and Cotton et al. (2011), and quantitative analyses will involve partial correlations and analysis of variance tests.


Findings will expand current literature on pediatric spiritual coping, contribute to the generalizability to multiple pediatric illness populations, and provide rationale for examining whether spiritually modified interventions improve adjustment to pediatric illness among patients and caregivers alike.

About the student

Nina Reynolds, MA, is a fifth year student in the Medical/Clinical Psychology Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She focuses her clinical and research work on youth with chronic illness, with emphasis on how patients and their families use spirituality to cope with illness. She will be applying to clinical internships this Fall, where she hopes to continue working with pediatric populations.

Exploring the role of religious beliefs, ritual practices and community context in Jewish parents’ coping and making meaning of their child’s diagnosis of autism

Religious beliefs, ritual practices, and community context are resources to help parents cope and making meaning when their child is diagnosed with a disability or disease (Park & Folkman, 1997; Tarakeshwar & Pargament, 2001). A total of ten to twenty Reform and Modern Orthodox Jewish young married couples will be recruited. The couples will have a young child recently diagnosed with autism. Mothers and fathers will each complete a demographic and Jewish ritual questionnaire and four different survey measures: (1) Marlowe Crown Social Desirability Scale (Crowne & Marlow, 1960); (2) Coping Orientation to Problem Experienced Scales (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989); (3) Jewish Coping Orientations to Problem Experienced Scales (Rosmarin, Pargament, Krumeri & Flannelly, 2009; and (4) Parental Stress Scale (Berry & Jones, 1995). Two parent report measures will be used to assess the child with autism’s adaptive behaviors, language abilities, and social skills: (1) The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (Sparrow, Balla & Cicchetti, 1984); (2) Social Responsiveness Scale (Constantino, 2012). Mothers and fathers will also be interviewed and asked to develop their social network maps. The interviews will address topics such as the role of different religious dimensions, marriage, parenting, their child’s diagnosis, and coping. Studying families facing a stressful event such as raising a child with autism may provide further insight into how the influence of religion can differ depending on the family’s functioning level (Ekas et al., 2009; Mahoney et al., 2001; Tarakeshwar & Pargament, 2001).

Frances Victory is a doctoral candidate in the Developmental Psychology program at City University of New York at Graduate Center. She completed her Bachelors of Arts in Psychology at State University of New York at Binghamton and her Masters of Arts in Applied Educational Psychology at Northeastern University. Frances’ research interests include the social emotional development of children with autism, inclusion in parochial preschools, and rabbinical figures’ views and perceptions of disabilities. She has also worked as a Montessori preschool teacher and done consulting work for a non-profit organization evaluating the effectiveness of after-school and community based programs. Ms. Victory has also taught many undergraduate courses such as Introduction to Psychology, Child Psychology, Infancy & Child Development, Experimental Psychology, and Life Span Development.

Implicit spirituality and mental health among Jews: An experimental study

Over the past two decades, psychological science has experienced a surge of interest in the topic of spirituality and religion (S/R). Several reviews and meta-analyses have convincingly demonstrated that S/R is linked to many indices of health and functioning (Ano & Vasconcelles, 2005; Smith, McCullough, & Poll, 2003; Spilka, Hood, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 2003). However, the vast majority of these studies have utilized self-report measures, which are subject to numerous biases. This is a particular limitation when studying emotionally charged or socially sensitive topics (e.g., stereotypes and prejudice) and likely applies to S/R as well. For example, self-reported S/R is likely vulnerable to social desirability bias (i.e., the tendency of respondents to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others), cognitive dissonance (i.e., discomfort that results from conflicting cognitions and behaviors), and a “halo” effect (i.e., completing self-report measures of S/R and health at the same time leads to overlapping positive or negative self-perceptions; Smith et al, 2001). In addition, most previous studies are cross-sectional and it remains unclear whether S/R is a cause, consequence or perhaps simply co-occurs with psychological functioning (Pirutinsky, Rosmarin, Pargament, & Midlarsky, 2011). However, several recent studies utilizing longitudinal designs have demonstrated that both positive and negative aspects of spirituality and religiosity temporal precede (and perhaps causally influence) psychological functioning (e.g., Fitchett, Rybarczyk, De- Marco, & Nicholas, 1999; Gall, Guirguis-Younger, Charbonneau, & Florack, 2009; Pirutinsky et al., 2011). To address these limitations, the study will utilize a longitudinal design that includes implicit measures of S/R to explore the impact of S/R on psychological functioning. There are three primary goals: 1) Extend previous S/R and mental health findings to a non self-report measure and thereby ameliorate self-report biases. 2) Explore convergence and divergence of implicit versus explicit S/R and the psychological relevance of these phenomena. 3) Develop and validate a non-self-report measure of S/R to provide an additional tool for future research.

Steven Pirutinsky is a doctoral student of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, whose research focuses on the relationship between religion/spirituality, psychological well-being, family functioning, and attitudes towards mental illness within the Jewish community.