Summer Research: Religion and Risk-taking
Dec. 16, 2004
by Stevie Eveland
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Participating in summer research is an experience Elizabeth Lorson will never forget. Last summer, she participated in the Bucknell Summer Research Program with Chris Boyatzis, associate professor of psychology.
Boyatzis was one of the reasons Lorson came to Bucknell, after meeting him when she was a prospective student. When she began thinking about participating in the research program, she met with him to discuss ideas. Boyatzis' primary interests were in religious and spiritual development while Lorson was interested in students' risk-taking and health behaviors, particularly drugs, alcohol, and sex. They decided that Lorson would apply to the program to do research on whether Bucknell women use their religious or spiritual beliefs to guide their decision-making about risky situations.
"I designed surveys to understand how women's religious or spiritual beliefs played a role in their risk-taking behaviors; drugs, alcohol, and sex," says Lorson. With a sample of 54 Bucknell women students, she asked whether their religious beliefs and their religion influenced their decisions to do such behaviors. About two-thirds of the women answered that religion and their beliefs did not play a role in influencing their decisions about sex, drugs, and alcohol, while about one-third said that their religion and beliefs did influence their decisions.
Lorson found that the more religious the women were in terms of specific measures of religiosity — the more frequently the women prayed, the more important they said religion was to them, the more religious groups they were involved with on campus, and the more frequently the women attended religious services — the less likely they were to use drugs. If it was known how religious the woman was, it could be predicted with significant accuracy how often she drank and did drugs, as well as her sexual behavior.
"One of the results I found to be most interesting was a survey response in which the subjects wrote a paragraph about how they thought religion affected their decisions," says Lorson. "Most of the subjects wrote about their sexual behaviors and how they had grown up in families that disapproved of premarital sex. Some even discussed guilt for engaging in sexual behaviors because of their religious beliefs." Lorson determined that not only is religiosity associated with less risk-taking behavior, but it is directly related to helping women make decisions about their behavior.
Although excited to work with Boyatzis, Lorson was very independent, doing a lot of the research on her own. She had a flexible research schedule, doing work on her research when she needed to and when she wanted to. If she hit a plateau where she was unsure of what to do next, Boyatzis would meet with her and discuss different options.
On her own, Lorson completed most of the development and distribution of the surveys, as well as the analysis of the data. "Liz took great initiative in designing the study, finding subjects, and compiling all the data," says Boyatzis.
Lorson developed the surveys for the women, requiring research on previous studies concentrating on topics similar to her own. She compiled 11 pages of surveys to tap women's religiosity and developed her own four-page risk-taking behaviors survey. After collecting and analyzing the data, she wrote up a 20-page research paper and presented her research at the undergraduate symposium.
Boyatzis feels the experience is very beneficial, "The summer research program is one of the many jewels, one of the many gems that Bucknell offers its serious students. If you want to gain first-hand research experience … this program is just a wonderful asset for the intellectual life of our community. It promotes student's professional development, promotes their intellectual development, and helps form their identities as serious scholars." Many students do independent studies in following years to build on their summer research, some even using their summer research as a pilot study for a senior honors thesis.
The summer research program is a good learning experience for students, but is also an enjoyable time for students and faculty. Boyatzis enjoys working with students, especially at Bucknell. Not only do Bucknell students display remarkable academic talent, he says, but most are "fine young people who are doing a valuable service for the community" and have "impressive values."
Lorson enjoyed the summer experience, and said that she would never take it back. Although the majority of students participating in the summer research program are upperclass students, Lorson participated in the program after only completing her first year. Even though she had less class experience, she feels she gained more from the project because she had to work harder to complete her research.
Lorson knew a career in psychology would include research. While learning a lot from the actual research, the program also made her realize that research wouldn't be her future. However, being able to write a report on research that she had done herself was "amazing to look back on." She feels she grew a lot intellectually and as a person because of her summer experience. She particularly enjoyed the independence of the program, the opportunity to get to know a professor better, and the knowledge she gained from Boyatzis.
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Stevie Eveland is a sophomore majoring in civil engineering and a Presidential Fellow in the Office of Communications at Bucknell.
Chris Boyatzis, associate professor of psychology, may be reached at 577-1696 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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