This study examines the association between beliefs about God and psychiatric symptoms in the context of Evolutionary Threat Assessment System Theory, using data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey of US Adults (N = 1,426). Three beliefs about God were tested separately in ordinary least squares regression models to predict five classes of psychiatric symptoms: general anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion. Belief in a punitive God was positively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, while belief in a benevolent God was negatively associated with four psychiatric symptoms, controlling for demographic characteristics, religiousness, and strength of belief in God. Belief in a deistic God and one’s overall belief in God were not significantly related to any psychiatric symptoms.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Aardema, F., O’Connor, K. P., & Emmelkamp, P. M. G. (2006). Inferential confusion and obsessive beliefs in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 35(3), 138–147.
Alatiq, Y., Crane, C., Williams, J. M. G., & Goodwin, G. M. (2010). Dysfunctional beliefs in bipolar disorder: Hypomanic vs. depressive attitudes. Journal of Affective Disorders, 122(3), 294–300.
Beck, A. T., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R. L. (1985). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. New York: Basic Books.
Beck, A. T., Butler, A. C., Brown, G. K., Dahlsgaard, K. K., Newman, C. F., & Beck, J. S. (2001). Dysfunctional beliefs discriminate personality disorders. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 39(10), 1213–1225.
Benson, P., & Spilka, B. (1973). God image as a function of self-esteem and locus of control. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 12(3), 297–310.
Blanchard, D. C., Hynd, A. L., Minke, K. A., Minemoto, T., & Blanchard, R. J. (2001). Human defensive behaviors to threat scenarios show parallels to fear- and anxiety-related defense patterns of non-human mammals. Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews, 25, 761–770.
Brune, M. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of obsessive-compulsive disorder: The role of cognitive metarepresentation. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 49(3), 317–329.
Burker, E. J., Evon, D. M., Sedway, J. A., & Egan, T. (2005). Religious and non-religious coping in lung transplant candidates: Does adding god to the picture tell us more? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 28(6), 513–526.
Cicirelli, V. G. (2002). Fear of death in older adults: Predictions from terror management theory. Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57(4), P358–P366.
Clark, D. M. (1999). Anxiety disorders: Why they persist and how to treat them. Behavior Research & Therapy, 37(Suppl 1), S5–S27.
Exline, J. J., Park, C. L., Smyth, J. M., & Carey, M. P. (2011). Anger toward god: Social-cognitive predictors, prevalence, and links with adjustment to bereavement and cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(1), 129–148.
Fenigstein, A., & Vanable, P. A. (1992). Paranoia and self-consciousness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(1), 129–138.
Fitchett, G., Murphy, P. E., Kim, J., Gibbons, J. L., Cameron, J. R., & Davis, J. A. (2004). Religious struggle: Prevalence, correlates and mental health risks in diabetic, congestive heart failure, and oncology patients. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 34(2), 179–196.
Flannelly, K. J., & Galek, K. (2010). Religion, evolution, and mental health: Attachment theory and ETAS theory. Journal of Religion and Health, 49(3), 337–350.
Flannelly, K. J., Koenig, H. G., Galek, K., & Ellison, C. G. (2007). Beliefs, mental health, and evolutionary threat assessment systems in the brain. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 195(12), 996–1003.
Flannelly, K. J., Galek, K., Ellison, C. G., & Koenig, H. G. (2010). Beliefs about god, psychiatric symptoms, and evolutionary psychiatry. Journal of Religion and Health, 49(2), 246–261.
Foster, R. A., & Keating, J. P. (1992). Measuring androcentrism in the western god-concept. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 31(3), 366–375.
Francis, L. J., Gibson, H. M., & Robbins, M. (2001). God images and self-worth among adolescents in Scotland. Mental Health, Religion and Culture, 4(2), 103–108.
Freud, S. (1920). A general introduction to psychoanalysis. New York: Horace Liveright.
Froese, P., & Bader, C. D. (2007). God in America: Why theology is not simply the concern of philosophers. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 46(4), 465–481.
Froese, P., & Bader, C. D. (2010). America’s four Gods. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gilbert, P. (1984). Depression: From psychology to brain state. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Gilbert, P. (1998a). Evolutionary psychopathology: Why isn’t the mind designed better than it is? British Journal of Medical Psychology, 71(Pt 4), 353–373.
Gilbert, P. (1998b). The evolved basis and adaptive functions of cognitive distortions. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 71(Pt 4), 447–463.
Gilbert, P. (2001). Evolution and social anxiety: The role of attraction, social competition, and social hierarchies. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 24(4), 723–751.
Gilbert, P. (2002). Evolutionary approaches to psychopathology and cognitive therapy. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 16(3), 263–294.
Gilbert, P., Boxall, M., Cheung, M., & Irons, C. (2005). The relationship of paranoid ideation and society anxiety in a mixed clinical population. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 12, 124–133.
Hammersla, J. F., Andrews-Qualls, L. C., & Frease, L. G. (1986). God concepts and religious commitment among Christian University students. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 25(4), 424–435.
Hogg, M. A., Adelman, J. R., & Blagg, R. D. (2010). Religion in the face of uncertainty: An uncertainty-identity theory account of religiousness. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(1), 72–83.
Kaplan, S. L. (1994). A self-rated scale for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50, 564–574.
Kirkpatrick, L. A. (1992). An attachment-theory approach to the psychology of religion. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2(1), 3–28.
Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2005). Attachment, evolution, and the psychology of religion. New York: Guilford Press.
Krause, N. (2002). Church-based social support and health in old age: Exploring variations by race. Journals of Gerontology, 57B(6), S332–S347.
Krause, N. (2005). God-mediated control and psychological well-being in late life. Research on Aging, 27(2), 136–164.
Kroenke, K., Spitzer, R. L., Williams, J. B. W., & Lowe, B. (2009). An ultra-brief screening scale for anxiety and depression: The PHQ-4. Psychosomatics, 50(6), 613–621.
MacLean, P. D. (1977). The triune brain in conflict. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 28, 207–220.
MacLean, P. D. (1985). Evolutionary psychiatry and the triune brain. Psychological Medicine, 15(2), 219–221.
MacLean, P. D. (1990). The triune brain in evolution: Role in paleocerebral functions. New York: Plenum Press.
Marks, I. M., & Nesse, R. M. (1994). Fear and fitness: An evolutionary analysis of anxiety disorders. Ethology & Sociobiology, 15(5–6), 247–261.
McConnell, K. M., Pargament, K. I., Ellison, C. G., & Flannelly, K. J. (2006). Examining the links between spiritual struggles and symptoms of psychopathology in a national sample. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(12), 1469–1484.
McNaughton, N., & Corr, P. J. (2004). A two-dimensional neuropsychology of defense: Fear/anxiety and defensive distance. Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews, 28, 285–305.
Moore, K. A., & Gee, D. L. (2003). The reliability, validity, discriminant and predictive properties of the social phobia inventory (SoPhi). Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 16(1), 109.
Moritz, S., & Pohl, R. F. (2006). False beliefs maintenance for fear-related information in obsessive-compulsive disorder: An investigation with the hindsight paradigm. Neuropsychology, 20(6), 737–742.
Nelsen, H. M., Cheek, N. H., & Au, P. (1985). Gender differences in images of God. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 24(4), 396–402.
Nesse, R. M. (1987). An evolutionary perspective on panic disorder and agoraphobia. Ethology & Sociobiology, 8, 73S–83S.
Nesse, R. (1998). Emotional disorders in evolutionary perspective. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 71(4), 397–415.
Noffke, J. L., & McFadden, S. H. (2001). Denominational and age comparisons of God concepts. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40(4), 747–756.
Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. M. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and Initial Validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(4), 519–543.
Phillips, R. E., Pargament, K. I., Lynn, Q. K., & Crossley, C. D. (2004). Self-directing religious coping: A deistic God, abandoning God, or no God at all? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43(3), 409–418.
Roof, W. C., & Roof, J. L. (1984). Review of the polls: Images of God among Americans. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 23(2), 201–205.
Rosmarin, D. H., Pargament, K. I., & Mahoney, A. (2009a). The role of religiousness in anxiety, depression, and happiness in a Jewish community sample: A preliminary investigation. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 12(2), 97–113.
Rosmarin, D. H., Pirutinsky, S., Pargament, K. I., & Krumrei, E. J. (2009b). Are religious beliefs relevant to mental health among Jews? Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 1(3), 180–190.
Schaap-Jonker, H., Eurelings-Bontekoe, E., Zock, H., & Jonker, E. (2002). Development and validation of the Dutch questionnaire God image: Effects of mental health and religious culture. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 11(5), 501–515.
Schieman, S., Pudrovska, T., Pearlin, L. I., & Ellison, C. G. (2006). The sense of divine control and psychological distress: Variations across race and socioeconomic status. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 45(4), 529–549.
Schlager, D. (1995). Evolutionary perspectives on paranoid disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 18(2), 263–279.
Silton, N. R., Flannelly, K. J., Ellison, C. G., Galek, K., Jacobs, M. R., Marcum, J. P., et al. (2011a). The association between religious beliefs and practices and end-of-life fears among members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). Review of Religious Research, 53, 357–370.
Silton, N. R., Flannelly, L. T., Flannelly, K. J., & Galek, K. (2011b). Toward a theory of holistic needs and the brain. Holistic Nursing Practice, 25(5), 258–265.
Steenwyk, S. A. M., Atkins, D. C., Bedics, J. D., & Whitley, B. E, Jr. (2010). Images of God as they relate to life satisfaction and hopelessness. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 20(2), 85–96.
Stein, M. B., Torgrud, L. J., & Walker, J. R. (2000). Social phobia symptoms, subtypes, and severity: Findings from a community survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57(11), 1046–1052.
Tamayo, A., & Desjardines, L. (1976). Belief systems and conceptual images of parents and God. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 92(1), 131–140.
Taylor, S., McKay, D., & Abramowitz, J. S. (2005). Hierarchical structure of dysfunctional beliefs in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 34(4), 216–228.
Vail, K. E, 3rd, Rothschild, Z. K., Weise, D. R., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (2010). A terror management analysis of the psychological functions of religion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(1), 84–94.
Wenzel, A., Sharp, I. R., Brown, G. K., Greenberg, R. L., & Beck, A. T. (2006). Dysfunctional beliefs in panic disorder: The panic belief inventory. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(6), 819–833.
Wiegand, K. E., & Weiss, H. M. (2006). Affective reactions to the thought of “God”: Moderating effects of image of God. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(1), 23–40.
Wood, B. T., Worthington, E. L, Jr, Exline, J. J., Yali, A. M., Aten, J. D., & McMinn, M. R. (2010). Development, refinement, and psychometric properties of the attitudes toward god scale (ATGS-9). Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2(3), 148–167.
The conduct of this research and the preparation of this manuscript for publication were made possible through the generous support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to HealthCare Chaplaincy, NY, NY: ID# 21296, “Spiritual Beliefs as Predictors of Mental Health: A Test of ETAS Theory” (Kevin J. Flannelly, Ph.D., and Kathleen Galek, Ph.D., Co-PI’s). The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.
About this article
Cite this article
Silton, N.R., Flannelly, K.J., Galek, K. et al. Beliefs About God and Mental Health Among American Adults. J Relig Health 53, 1285–1296 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-013-9712-3
- ETAS theory
- General anxiety
- Social anxiety