Psychology - Scharmer and Njus

Psychology student Lexi Scharmer conducts research with Professor of Psychology David Njus.

Psychological Well-Being Differences Between Atheists, Agnostics, and Fundamentalists

Lexi Scharmer ’16, Majors: Psychology, Mathematics/Statistics
David Njus, Professor of Psychology

About the Project

“Our research examined the relationship between aspects of religion and psychological well-being,” Scharmer says. “We looked at religiosity, attachment to God, religious coping, religious fundamentalism, adult attachment, self-esteem, depression, and locus of control.”

What Was Most Challenging About the Project?

“The biggest challenge for me was learning how to use our chosen online survey tool,” says Scharmer. “We had a number of hiccups but ended up straightening them out and it was a valuable resource for collecting data outside of the Luther community.”

Njus adds, “The aspect I found most challenging was getting a large number of online participants to complete our measures. Overall, we collected data online from over 450 adults.”

Most Fascinating Discovery

“I think the most interesting finding was how strongly religious fundamentalism was related to positive psychological outcomes, both when compared to atheists and to other religious believers,” says Njus.

Scharmer agrees. “We found that overall, fundamentalists had higher self-esteem, lower depression, and perceived a greater responsibility for success than atheists.”

Applying What She’s Learned

Scharmer believes this project helped her apply concepts she’s learned about in her psychology classes, such as attachment, to real populations. “It’s also given me valuable experience in examining large pools of data,” she says. “As a mathematics/statistics major, I’ve applied some of the concepts I’ve learned about in statistics to the data analysis as well.”

Created Her Own Experience

“Throughout this project, I was given a lot of independence to read articles in the area that interested me and formulate my own hypotheses apart from the areas that Dr. Njus directly wanted to examine,”  Scharmer says. “He gave me the freedom to add the religious fundamentalism measure to our battery, and basically allowed me to work on what I was interested in with only the constraints of a rough timeline for data collection and analysis. This allowed me to play with different possible hypotheses, formulate my own ideas, and develop as a student and researcher in ways that are not possible within the confines of a regular psychology lab class.”

Advice for Student Contemplating Undergraduate Research?

Look at what research your professors are doing. Read their research and see what interests or excites you, then approach your professors with your interests and see if they have an opening on their research team.

—David Njus

How Will the Results Be Shared?

This research will be presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association conference in Chicago. Scharmer is a first author on the conference presentations. She and Njus hope to work on a journal manuscript this summer.