The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

The Stressful Situation of Religious Zealotry

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 9, 2010

From York University:

Anxiety and uncertainty can cause us to become more idealistic and more radical in our religious beliefs, according to new findings by York University researchers, published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In a series of studies, more than 600 participants were placed in anxiety-provoking or neutral situations and then asked to describe their personal goals and rate their degree of conviction for their religious ideals. This included asking participants whether they would give their lives for their faith or support a war in its defence.

Across all studies, anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions. In one study, mulling over a personal dilemma caused a general surge toward more idealistic personal goals. In another, struggling with a confusing mathematical passage caused a spike in radical religious extremes. In yet another, reflecting on relationship uncertainties caused the same religious zeal reaction.

Researchers found that religious zeal reactions were most pronounced among participants with bold personalities (defined as having high self-esteem and being action-oriented, eager and tenacious), who were already vulnerable to anxiety, and felt most hopeless about their daily goals in life.

A basic motivational process called Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM) is responsible, according to lead researcher Ian McGregor, Associate Professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health. “Approach motivation is a tenacious state in which people become ‘locked and loaded’ on whatever goal or ideal they are promoting. They feel powerful, and thoughts and feelings related to other issues recede,” he says.

“RAM is usually an adaptive goal regulation process that can re-orient people toward alternative avenues for effective goal pursuit when they hit a snag. Our research shows that humans can sometimes co-opt RAM for short term relief from anxiety, however. By simply promoting ideals and convictions in their own minds, people can activate approach motivation, narrow their motivational focus away from anxious problems, and feel serene as a result,” says McGregor.

Researchers also measured participants’ superstitious beliefs and deference toward a controlling God in order to distinguish religious zeal from meeker forms of devotion. “Anxiety-provoking threats sometimes also cause people to become paranoid and more submissive to externally-controlling forces, so we wanted to rule out that interpretation for our results,” he says. Anxious uncertainty had no effect on either superstition or religious submission.

Findings published last year in the journal Psychological Science by the same authors and collaborators at the University of Toronto found that strong religious beliefs are associated with low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that becomes active in anxious predicaments.

The findings, reported in two separate articles, “Anxious Uncertainty and Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM)” and “Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM) for Religion,” were co-authored by McGregor and York University graduate students Kyle Nash, Mike Prentice, Nikki Mann, and Curtis Phills. Both appear in the July issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Palliative Function of Ideology,” The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?,” Seeing Faces,” “Holier Than Thou,” “Think Progress or Die,”The Situation of Faith in God or Science,” “The Situation of Revenge,”The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Ideology, Life | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Childhood: The New Age of Anxiety?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2008

Gina Stepp of Vision has an interesting piece on recent findings that suggest children in the U.S. and other countries are increasingly struggling with anxiety and unhappiness. Below we excerpt a portion of her piece.

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In the year 2000—even before terrorism hit so close to home for Americans on September 11, 2001, and before the United States went to war with Iraq—an interesting study appeared in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In her report, social psychologist Jean Twenge observed that anxiety levels in American children had increased dramatically since the first effective scale for measuring childhood anxiety was published in 1956.

The increases were so large and linear, Twenge explained, that by the 1980s normal children scored higher on the anxiety scale than did children in the 1950s who were psychiatric patients. The culprits? According to Twenge, disconnected relationships and looming environmental threats were the underlying factors. In particular she notes that “changes in the divorce rate, the birth rate, and the crime rate are all highly correlated with children’s anxiety.” In contrast, she discovered that “surprisingly, economic indices had very little independent effect on anxiety. Apparently, children are less concerned with whether their family has enough money than whether it is threatened by violence or dissolution.”

If modern young Americans are indeed feeling the strain, they are certainly not alone in the world. According to a March 2008 article in the online Independent, Britain may actually be the “unhappiest place on earth” for children. Education editor Richard Garner notes the “welter of evidence highlighting the fragile states of mind of many of the country’s seven million primary and secondary school pupils,” while reporting that British teachers had called for an independent Royal Commission to discover the reasons behind the widespread anxiety and unhappiness among the nation’s children.

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In May of 2005, two education researchers from Pennsylvania State University—David P. Baker and Gerald K. LeTendre—coauthored a book titled National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. Analyzing data collected from schools across more than 41 nations, the researchers came to a conclusion that might surprise many parents and educators: more homework does not necessarily translate to higher academic achievement.

Japan, the Czech Republic and Denmark were noted to have the highest academically scoring students while typically giving little or no homework. On the other hand, Baker noted that countries with very low scores in academic achievement: Thailand, Greece and Iran, typically were being assigned heavy homework loads.

“The United States is among the most homework-intensive countries in the world for seventh- and eighth-grade math classes,” commented LeTendre. “U.S. math teachers on average assigned more than two hours of mathematics homework per week in 1994-95. Contrary to our expectations, one of the lowest levels was recorded in Japan—about one hour a week. These figures challenge previous stereotypes about the lackadaisical American teenager and his diligent peer in Japan.”

LeTendre and Baker point out that it is these stereotypes, hyped by American media, that are actually responsible for prompting many U.S. schools to increase homework assignments during the 1980s. “At the same time,” say the researchers, “ironically, Japanese educators were attempting to reduce the amount of homework given to their students and allow them more leisure from the rigors of schooling. Neither the American nor the Japanese educational reform of the 1980s seems to have affected general achievement levels in either country.”

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For the rest of the piece, click here. For other Situationist posts on childhood, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Life, Public Policy, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

 
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