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The proposed project leverages an ongoing longitudinal study of adolescent activity patterns and spatial exposures in order to assess the main and stress-buffering effects of religious involvement on the stress-associated hormone cortisol. Because cortisol can have effects on multiple health relevant biological systems, it is an excellent candidate for mediating religious influences on physical health. Because religiosity is hypothesized to reduce stress over the long-term, measurement of cumulative cortisol exposure using head hair samples is an ideal methodology for testing the hypothesized relationship between religiosity and health.
Traditional self-report measures of religious service attendance will be supplemented with two novel measures that could be less susceptible to social desirability bias: 1) listing of regular locations the adolescent visits, including religious institutions; and 2) GPS-based assessment of presence and time spent at a religious institution during the week – both measured longitudinally. The study began in 2014 (n=1405; 1079 providing hair samples) and Wave 2 (n= 649; 565 providing hair samples) was collected in 2016. Wave 3 ran from 2018 until COVID shutdowns (n=309;221 hair samples). Wave 4 will commence in 2021. Simultaneously with Waves 3 and 4, we are recruiting a refresher sample that will increase Waves 1 and 2 by 15%.
In this large, ethnically diverse sample (over 40% minority), funding would provide the opportunity to operationalize these novel religious measures and assay the cortisol samples in order to answer two research questions using state-of-the-art statistical methods (eg inverse probability of treatment weighting for causal inference):
1) Is adolescent religiosity associated with longitudinal changes in cortisol levels and is this effect moderated by race? The same question will be asked in their parents.
2) Does adolescent religiosity buffer against longitudinal changes in cortisol due to exposure to violence?