Religiosity and depression in intercollegiate athletes
Eric A. Storch
The present study examined the relationship between organizational, non-organizational, and intrinsic religiosity, and symptoms of depression in intercollegiate athletes. The Duke Religion Index and the Depression subscale of the Personality Assessment Inventory were completed by 105 athletes. Results showed that only intrinsic religiosity was negatively associated with affective symptoms of depression. Implications of these findings on the potential protective effects of religiosity against affective symptoms of depression are discussed.
Given its role in the lives of many athletes, it is surprising that little research has been conducted examining religiosity in athletes. While several single subject studies have qualitatively examined the protective effects of religiosity against distress in athletes, no empirical research has been conducted that has investigated the buffering effects of religiosity against depression in intercollegiate athletes. Understanding this relationship is particularly important given the relative high frequency of depression during adolescence, particularly for females. As researchers are increasingly recognizing the importance of religiosity in the lives of some athletes (Balague, 1999; Hoffman, 1992; Storch, Storch, Kolsky, & Silvestri, 2001), this study focuses on the degree to which organizational, non-organizational, and intrinsic religiosity are associated with depressive symptoms in intercollegiate athletes.
Until recently, research examining the relationship between religiosity and psychopathology was plagued by the use of an incomplete definition of religiosity. Koenig, Parkerson, and Meador (1997) addressed this limitation through their description of three dimensions of religiosity, namely organizational, non-organizational and intrinsic. Organizational religiosity is conceptualized as the frequency with which one attends religious services. Non-organizational religiosity is defined in terms of the amount of time spent in private religious activities such as prayer or meditation. Intrinsic religiosity is the degree to which one integrates his/her religiousness into their life (Koenig et al., 1997).
Religiosity is thought to protect against maladjustment through cognitive and behavioral techniques that assist the individual in managing life stressors (Miller, Davies, & Greenwald, 2000). It follows, therefore, that religious beliefs and practices might buffer against stressors associated with athletic competition (e.g., try-outs, important matches). While no studies have examined the relationship between religiosity and depression in athletes, several studies have been conducted in community samples (Kendler, Gardner, & Prescott, 1997; Koenig, George, & Peterson, 1998; Krause & Van Tran, 1989 Strawbridge, Shema, Cohen, & Kaplan, 2001). Research examining intrinsic religiosity and depressive symptoms have consistently found an inverse relationship (Kendleret al., 1997; Koenig et al., 1998; Krause & Van Tran, 1989). However, the association between organizational and non-organizational religiosity, and depressive symptoms remains unclear as some studies have found an inverse relationship (Krause & Van Tran, 1989; Strawbridge et al., 2001) while others have found no relationship (Koenig et al., 1998).
The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between organizational, non-organizational, and intrinsic religiosity, and depression in intercollegiate athletes. Based on previous research findings in community samples, we expect to find an inverse relationship between organizational, non-organizational, and intrinsic religiosity, and depressive symptoms. As applied sport practitioners and researchers are increasingly recognizing the role of religion in the lives of many athletes (Balague, 1999; Hoffman 1992; Storch et al., 2001), there is a need to understand the extent to which religiosity may assist athletes in coping with distress.
One hundred and five intercollegiate athletes (female = 51) at a public university in Southeastern United States participated in the study. The following teams were included in the present study due to convenience: women’s soccer (N = 24), women’s volleyball (N = 11), women’s basketball (N = 4), women’s swimming (N = 16), men’s swimming (N = 15), men’s tennis (N = 4), and football (N = 31). The mean age was 19 years 9 months for the total sample (SD = 19 months), and the ethnic distribution as follows: 61.9% Caucasian, 23.8% African-American, 6.7% Hispanic, 1.9% Asian, and 5.8% “other”. The religious affiliation of the subjects consisted of 33.3% Catholic, 22.9% Protestant, 12.4% Baptist, 3.8% Jewish, 13.3% non-denominational Christian, 2.9% agnostic, and 11.4% “other”.
The Duke Religion Index (DRI; Koenig et al., 1997) is a 5-item scale that was used to assess the organizational (e.g., attendance at religious services), non-organizational (e.g., prayer or religious study), and intrinsic dimensions of religion. Organizational religiosity was assessed on a six point likert scale by asking “How often do you attend religious services or meetings” (1 = never, 2 = once a year, 3 = a few times a year, 4 = a few times a month, 5 = once a week, 6 = more than once a week). Non-organizational religiosity was measured on a six point likert scale through the question “How often do you spend time in private religious activities such as prayer, meditation, or Bible study” (1 = never or rarely, 2 = a few times a year, 3 = a few times a month, 4 = once a week, 5 = more than once a week, 6 = more than once a day). Intrinsic religiosity was measured by summing three questions assessing intrinsic beliefs on a five point likert scale (e.g., “In my life, I experience the presence of the Divine”; 1 = definitely not true, 3 = neither true nor untrue, 5 = definitely true). The reliability of the intrinsic religiosity subscale is acceptable with a Cronbach’s alphas ranging from .70 to .75 in previous studies (Koenig et al., 1997; Storch et al., 2001) and .90 in this sample. The intrinsic religiosity subscale is highly associated with Hoge’s (1972) intrinsic religiousness scale (r = .85), while the organizational and non-organizational dimensions are positively related with physical health, and social support (Koenig et al., 1997).
The Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI; Morey, 1991) is a self-report measure that assesses clinical symptomatology, personality variables, and well-being in community and psychiatric populations. Responses to items range from 0 (false) to 3 (always) indicating the degree to which each statement is true. The PAI has demonstrated reliability and validity in use with clinical and non-clinical populations (see Morey, 1991 for a review). The Depression subscale of the PAI was used to assess cognitive (8 items; e.g., “I feel that I’ve let everyone down”), affective (8 items; e.g., “Much of the time I am sad for no reason”), and physiological (8 items; e.g., “I’ve been moving more slowly than usual”) symptoms of depression. Subscale scores are obtained by summing the items assessing a specific construct. The Cronbach’s alpha for the cognitive, affective, and physiological subscales were .88, .84, and .70, respectively.
Arrangements were made with coaches to allow the investigator to utilize a study period for the administration of the questionnaires. A research assistant was present at each administration to provide instructions and collect consent forms from participating athletes. Participants were allowed as much time as they needed to complete the instruments and identifying information was deleted from the questionnaires following completion.
Nine separate hierarchical regression analyses were conducted in which organizational, non-organizational, and intrinsic religiosity were used to predict cognitive, affective, and physiological symptoms of depression controlling for gender. Table 1 displays the means, standard deviations, and correlations among independent and dependent variables. Findings indicated that after controlling for gender in step one, only intrinsic religiosity was significantly associated with affective symptoms of depression, F(2, 103) = 4.04, p .05). See Table 2 for the standardized beta weights for each analysis.
The main purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between organizational, non-organizational, and intrinsic religiosity, and depression in intercollegiate athletes. Our results showed that of the nine separate analyses, only intrinsic religiosity was negatively associated with affective symptoms of depression. This finding, however, provides some insight into the potential buffering effects of intrinsic religiosity against sadness in intercollegiate athletes.
Consistent with previous research (Kendler et al., 1997; Koenig et al., 1998; Krause & Van Tran, 1989), this study found an inverse relationship between intrinsic religiosity and affective symptoms of depression. Perhaps intrinsic religious beliefs provide a sense of hope and security that protect against distressing events. It may also be that unconditional love by one’s God provides a stable sense of self-worth that buffers against external pressures associated with affective symptoms of depression (Koenig, 1994). Future quantitative and qualitative research should examine the ways athletes use intrinsic religious beliefs to buffer against distress.
This study has several limitations that should be considered when interpreting the results. First, non-significant findings may have been due to a small sample size, and thus, a lack of statistical power. Second, the correlational nature of this study prevents causal interpretations. The temporal relationship may be bi-directional with depression leading to less frequent participation in religious and spiritual activities. Finally, the self-report nature of the instruments in this study may be vulnerable to a social desirability bias in responding. Perhaps highly religious participants judged their behavior differently than those who are less religious. Within these limitations, this study provides the first investigation of the relationship between religiosity and depression in intercollegiate athletes.
That only intrinsic religiosity and affective symptoms of depression were negatively related suggests several implications. First, this finding suggests the potential buffering effects of intrinsic religiosity against sadness. Those athletes who are sad may benefit from the cognitive and social support associated with personal devotion to a religion. Second, given the negative association between intrinsic beliefs and affective symptoms of depression, activities that promote a connection to a higher power may be useful for athletes who are sad. Finally, results from this study suggest that religiosity in athletes bears little association with depressive symptoms. Perhaps other variables (e.g., family support, friendship) are important in protecting against depression in athletes. An alternative interpretation may be that depressed athletes are physically and emotionally unable to pray and/or attend religious services.
Pearson Correlation Coefficients of Independent and Dependent Variables
(N = 105)
1 2 3 4
1. Gender 1.00 -.18 -.10 -.06
2. Age 1.00 -.03 -.02
3. ORG 1.00 .72 ***
4. NON 1.00
M 1.50 19.70 3.53 4.09
SD .52 1.60 1.53 1.89
5 6 7 8
1. Gender -.08 .25 ** .26 ** .28 **
2. Age .04 -.10 .02 -.13
3. ORG .81 *** .02 -.10 -.02
4. NON .76 *** -.06 -.09 -.04
5. INTRIN 1.00 -.10 -.21 * -.04
6. COG 1.00 .66 *** .55 ***
7. AFF 1.00 .45 ***
8. PHYSIO 1.00
M 10.32 4.04 4.48 6.70
SD 3.44 4.00 4.55 4.11
Note: ORG = Organizational religiosity; NON = Non-organizational
religiosity; INTRIN = Intrinsic religiosity; COG = Cognitive symptoms;
AFF = Affective symptoms; PHYSIO = Physiological symptoms; Gender was
dummy coded with Male = 1, Female = 2
* p < .05 level (2-tailed)
** p < .01 level (2-tailed)
*** p < .001 level (2-tailed)
Results of Regression Analyses of the Association Between Gender,
Age, the Three Dimensions of Religiosity, and Depressive Symptoms
Organizational Non-organizational Intrinsic
Affective -.07 -.07 -.20 *
Physiological .01 -.03 -.02
Cognitive .04 -.05 -.08
Note: Standardized beta coefficients representing the relationship
between the dimension of religiosity and dependent variable.
Standardized beta coefficients reflect a change in the dependent
variable associated with a standard deviation change in religiosity
(e.g., 1 SD above the mean in intrinsic religiosity is associated
with a 20% decreased likelihood of current affective symptoms).
* p < .05
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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Eric A. Storch, Department of Clinical Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University, Box 57, 525 West 120th St., New York, NY 10027. Electronic mail may be sent to EAS77 @COLUMBIA.EDU.
ERIC A. STORCH (1), JASON B. STORCH (2), ERIC WELSH (1), AND AUBREE OKUN (1)
(1) Department of Clinical Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University (2) Department of Education and Leadership, University of Florida
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