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Can God Cure Your Break-Up Blues?

Researcher Kristin Laurin of the Stanford Graduate School of Business has explored how faith in God helps people cope with the threat of romantic rejection. A release from the university notes that “God stands in for other relationships in our lives when times are tough”. The study was published on April 17th in Social Psychological and Personality Science,

The release also notes that most psychological research to date has looked at people's relationship with God as similar to a parent-child bond, and quotes Laurin as saying, "We wanted to push further the idea that people have a relationship with God in the same sense as they have relationships with other humans. The idea is certainly not new in terms of cultural discourse, but it's not something that psychologists have done a lot of empirical work to study."

Specifically, Laurin and colleagues wanted to see how our relationship with God changes as our other relationships change. The researchers designed a series of studies that experimentally induced people to believe their romantic relationship was under threat and then tested their feelings of closeness to God. They also wanted to examine the opposite idea — how people's romantic relationships take on different meaning when their relationship with God is threatened – and tested how this dynamic changed based on the individual's self-esteem.

In one of the studies, the team recruited 187 participants who were primarily Christian and Hindu but also Muslim, nonreligious, or unaffiliated. To manipulate relationship threat, the researchers told some of the participants that everyone hides certain aspects of themselves from their partners. "Then we hit them with the idea that these 'secret selves' always end up coming out, and ruining relationships," Laurin says. "And just in case that's not enough to make them nervous that their relationship could be in danger, we force them to think more specifically about things that they themselves might be hiding from their partners."

They then asked the participants to rate their closeness to God. Another group of participants simply rated their closeness with God without first reading the threat scenario. The researchers also assessed the participants' self-esteem.

The investigators found that participants sought to enhance their relationship with God when under threat of romantic rejection – but only if they had high self-esteem. This fits with past work showing that people high in self-esteem seek social connection when their relationships are threatened.

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