Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Thank God for My Successes (Not My Failures): Feeling God’s Presence Explains a God Attribution Bias

Thank God for My Successes (Not My Failures): Feeling God’s Presence Explains a God Attribution Bias. Amber DeBono, Dennis Poepsel, Natarshia Corley. Psychological Reports, November 4, 2019.

Abstract: Little research has investigated attributional biases to God for positive and negative personal events. Consistent with past work, we predicted that people who believe in God will attribute successes more to God than failures, particularly for highly religious people. We also predicted that believing that God is a part of the self would increase how much people felt God’s presence which would result in giving God more credit for successes. Our study (N = 133) was a two-factor, between-subject experimental design in which participants either won or lost a game and were asked to attribute the cause of this outcome to themselves, God, or other factors. Furthermore, participants either completed the game before or after responding to questions about their religious beliefs. Overall, there was support for our predictions. Our results have important implications for attribution research and the practical psychological experiences for religious people making attributions for their successes and failures.

Keywords: Religion, God, attribution, self


The results of this study provided substantial evidence for our two primarygoals. First, we demonstrated that people who believe in God attributed successes more to God than their failures. Furthermore, we showed that thiseffect was stronger for people who identified as more religious. We thereforeconceptually replicated previous research (Spilka & Schmidt, 1983), demonstrating that this God attribution style is a reliable effect, not limited to hypo-thetical scenarios.

Moreover, the percentage attributed to God for a win appeared to be bestpredicted by believing God is a part of them. This relationship was bestexplained by simply feeling God’s presence during the experimental task.These findings are consistent with previous research that showed the importanceof the overlap between God and self in addition to feeling God’s presence (e.g.,Hodges et al., 2013; Sharp et al., 2017). In contrast with Spilka and Schmidt’s(1983) findings, our results indicated that the overlap between God and the selfmay provide a better explanation than religious commitment for how peopleattribute successes to God, by feeling God’s presence. Our review of the literature suggests this may be the first study to investigate these concepts as explan-ations for differing attribution styles for failures and successes.

Strengths  and  implications

Until now, little research has investigated why and how God-believers attributetheir successes to God more than their failures. We replicated the results of a setof over 30-year-old studies (Spilka & Schmidt, 1983). Contrary to these originalstudies, our research did not use hypothetical events; our participants experienced real-life successes and failures. Despite this seemingly stable effect, little research has explained why people who believe in God experienced a God attri-bution bias instead of a self-serving bias. We again showed that a God attribution bias may be a result of religious commitment. In addition to conceptually replicating these over 30-year-old findings (which is important in and of itself), we also found evidence for some possible mechanisms to explain this God attri-bution bias. That is, believing God is a part of them, a variable potentially moreimportant than religiosity, appeared to increase feeling God’s presence whichresulted in greater attributions to God for successes. This is the first setof studies that show these beliefs may play an important role in the God attribution bias.

These results also indicate that a more nuanced approach is needed to under-stand why people attribute successes more to God than failures and how thisimpacts people’s thinking and behavior. Although vignettes are better thansimple survey measures (Alexander & Becker, 1978), they are problematic aspeople might believe they would make attributions one way when in reality theymay do another (Barter & Renold, 1999). Our study is the first to examine God attributional styles for actual experiences of failures and successes by the participants. Nevertheless, the results of our study were consistent with the vignetteresearch: while religious individuals were more likely to use this God-serving attributional style, we saw that people generally tended to give God more credit for successes than failures. We also found support for the idea that feeling Godas a part of the self, which resulted in feeling God’s presence also predictedgiving God greater credit, but only for successes. Religious commitment did notexplain this effect as well as feeling God is a part of the self.

Although the Battleship game held little consequences for participants(whether they won or lost resulted in no benefit or penalty), even with thisinconsequential task, we saw that people will attribute successes more to Godand failures to themselves. Yet, the successes and failures in life often result inreal consequences. Our study showed that even inconsequential failures andsuccesses can lead to God attributional biases seen in previous research. Thus,we would predict a similar God attributional pattern between both consequen-tial and inconsequential tasks, inside and outside of the laboratory.

Our results also suggest that people who are especially religious may be morelikely to attribute their successes more to God than their failures. People whouse this attributional style should be more mindful of these attribution tenden-cies, as giving God credit for successes and taking credit for failures could resultin depression. Potentially, this could explain slumps we see in highly religiousathletes. If athletes give credit to God for successes on the field, this may appearas humility to some, but this type of thinking could quickly lead to the samedownward spiral thinking that we see in people suffering from depression (Alloy& Abramson, 1988). It would be prudent for all of us, especially for people whobelieve in God, to be aware of how much credit we are taking for our successesand failures. As such, Sports Psychologists may consider heeding this line ofthinking in their religious athletes, so that they can break out of their “slumps.”

Our findings also further our understanding of SIT, by showing that religiousidentity may be less important for explaining attributions to God for successesthan experiencing God as part of the self. Although religiosity, an aspect ofone’s collective identity, moderated the effect of wins on attributions to God,experiencing God as part of the self predicted feeling God’s presence, which thenpredicted attributing the win to God. Religious commitment did not explain thiseffect as well. Future research should continue to examine these two variables,religiosity and experiencing God as part of the self, when attempting to explainattributional styles.

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