God, Religion and the Socially Disconnected

Author: University of Michigan
Published: 2021/06/13 - Updated: 2023/07/04 - Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: University of Michigan research study reveals religious people who lack friends and purpose in life turn to God to fill those voids. For the socially disconnected, God may serve as a substitutive relationship that compensates for some of the purpose that human relationships would normally provide. The new U-M study continues previous research showing that people who are socially disconnected are more likely to see human-like qualities in things like pets, imaginary beings and God.

Main Digest

Study results suggest that although people primarily derive purpose from social relationships, socially disconnected individuals may leverage their religious beliefs for purpose and social comfort until they can reconnect. However, the findings do not suggest that people who are socially disconnected are more likely to become religious if they were not already.

Belonging Related to Sense of Purpose

When people feel like they do not belong or are unsupported by their relationships, they consistently have a lower sense of purpose and direction in life, says lead author Todd Chan, a doctoral student in the U-M Department of Psychology.

Chan and colleagues say that having a belief system that adequately "substitutes" for some of the functions of human relationships, like having a God that values and supports them, may allow socially disconnected people to restore some of this purpose.

"For the socially disconnected, God may serve as a substitutive relationship that compensates for some of the purposes that human relationships would normally provide," Chan said.

In three separate studies, the U-M researchers analyzed the responses from 19,775 people who described their purpose in life, loneliness levels, friendship quality, and religious beliefs.

These beliefs generally provide social comfort. The research shows that seeing God as your friend when you are already socially connected provides minimal additional benefit for purpose in life.

"In other words, people mostly benefit from leveraging religion and turning to God as a friend only when they lack supportive social connections," Chan said.

This research also informs how people can cope with disconnection when others are unavailable or unappealing. People would ideally "get out there" and improve their social contacts to feel less disconnected. However, this is not always feasible, given that the researchers say that an inherent part of social disconnection is that people have poor relationships or are rejected.

The new U-M study continues previous research showing that people who are socially disconnected are more likely to see human-like qualities in things like pets, imaginary beings, and God.

"Our research suggests, given two people who feel equally disconnected, the individual who feels more connected to God will have a better sense of purpose in life," said co-author Nicholas Michalak, a psychology graduate student.

Although the results suggest that religion and God compensate for lost purpose in the socially disconnected, it did not restore purpose to a level comparable to that of people who are socially connected.

"These results certainly do not suggest that people can or should rely on God over people for a purpose," said co-author Oscar Ybarra, professor of psychology and faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "Quality human connections remain a primary and enduring source of purpose in life."

In addition, the findings do not suggest that people who are socially disconnected are more likely to become religious if they were not already.

Consistent with our hypotheses, religious beliefs had minimal influence on purpose in life for socially connected individuals, who already held higher levels of purpose than socially disconnected individuals. However, for socially disconnected individuals, being highly religious predicted higher levels of purpose in life. This study appeared in the Journal of Personality.

Resources That Provide Relevant Information

The Delusional World of Man-Made Deities: Paper examines the delusional world of artificial Gods, the uselessness of prayer, and the primitive legends in the bible.

Conflict Between Science and Religion is All in Our Mind: Researchers discover the conflict between science and religion may have its origins in the structure of our brains. To believe in a supernatural god or universal spirit, people appear to suppress the brain network used for analytical thinking and engage the empathetic network.

Attribution/Source(s):

This peer reviewed publication pertaining to our Disability and Religion section was selected for circulation by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "God, Religion and the Socially Disconnected" was originally written by University of Michigan, and submitted for publishing on 2021/06/13 (Edit Update: 2023/07/04). Should you require further information or clarification, University of Michigan can be contacted at the umich.edu website. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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