August 24, 2001

Religious Involvement Found to Have Largest Influence on Self-Esteem of Young Adolescents, According to National Survey

Race and gender are also influences: African American girls had highest self-esteem and African American boys and Caucasian girls had lowest self-esteem

SAN FRANCISCO - Young adolescents who participate in religious activities evaluated themselves more positively than youths who don't participate in religious activities, according to a national survey of eighth graders that examined self-esteem of early adolescents.

Race and gender also influenced self-esteem. African American girls had the most positive opinion of themselves and African American boys had the lowest opinion of themselves. This study conducted by psychologists Yong Dai, Ph.D., and Rebecca Nolan, Ph.D., of Louisiana State University in Shreveport and Qing Zeng, Ph.D., of Wells College in Aurora, NY will be presented at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 109th Annual Convention in San Francisco, CA.

Using the results from "Monitoring the Future, a Continuing Study of American Youth" conducted by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center in 1999, the authors found that African American female eighth graders were more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to evaluate themselves positively. But, White male eighth graders evaluated themselves more positively than African American eighth grade males, which, according to the authors, may reflect a cultural difference in how parents teach their sons and daughters about self-esteem.

The survey was given to 1,261 eighth graders - (570 males, 691 females; 1,011 Caucasian, 250 African American from different parts of the United States). The questions included four positive and four negative questions that measured self-esteem (positive examples: I take a positive attitude toward myself; I am able to do things as well as most other people; negative examples: I feel I do not have much to be proud of; Sometimes I think that I am no good at all). The eighth graders were also asked how involved they were in religious activities. The largest percentage of eighth graders who participated in religious activities also reported the highest self-esteem (Very Involved-612, Involved-183, Slightly Involved-280, Not At All Involved-186).

Religious involvement appears from these results to have one of the largest influence on young adolescents' self-esteem, said the authors, which may indicate that churches and other religious institutions teach people how to have positive images of themselves. "From this we speculate that positive teaching in general may be able to influence early adolescents' self-evaluations in a beneficial way."

The authors surmise that religious activities are often something a family does together. The large influence of religious involvement on self-esteem may also imply, said the authors, "that younger adolescents are closer with their parents which may also play a role in their self-esteem. Relationship with parents is still strong in the younger adolescent's life in spite of increasing importance of peer relationships. Family influence may also have an affect on an adolescent's religious involvement which leads to more chances to receive positive teaching."

Presentation: "Self-Esteem of Early Adolescents: A National Survey of 8th Graders," Yong Dai, Ph.D., Rebecca F. Nolan, Ph.D., and Qing Zeng, Ph.D., Louisiana State University in Sherveport, Session 1221, 1:00 - 2:50 PM, August 24, 2001, Moscone Center - South Building, Exhibit Hall A (A-6)

Full text of the article is available form the APA Public Affairs Office

Yong Dai, Ph.D., can be reached at (318) 797-5042. Rebecca Nolan, Ph.D., can be reached at (318) 797-5044.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United State and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.