The Role of Priming Disaster Images on Meaning, Religion, and God Associations

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Dr. Carrie Bredow, Psychology

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How do people psychologically recover from disasters and restore a sense of meaning in their life? Disasters can potentially threaten physical and psychological well-being. Previous research suggests that when faced with a disaster, people are driven to restore a sense of meaning in their lives (Haynes et al., in press). In this study, we aim to discover how priming disasters affects participants’ reported meaning in life and their concept of God (assessed both explicitly and implicitly). We hypothesize that (religious) participants faced with a disaster prime will reaffirm their meaning and religious values compared to those in the control group. Participants were undergraduate introductory psychology students at a private Midwestern liberal arts college. First, all participants filled out individual difference measures about their personality and religious beliefs. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: (1) watching a video of a person driving through a major forest fire (natural disaster prime), (2) watching a video of the commercial airliners crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 (terrorist disaster prime), (3) watching a video of the BP oil spill and oil rig fire (technical disaster prime), or (4) watching a video of a nature scene with waterfalls (neutral prime). All participants were asked to imagine themselves in the situations depicted in the videos. After the videos were shown, all sets of participants completed assessments on their implicit and explicit God associations and filled out a questionnaire about their reported meaning in life. Participants were then debriefed. We are in the process of collecting data (N~80; Target N=100), but we expect to find the data will support our hypothesis that meaning in life will be reaffirmed when a person is faced with a disaster scenario and that God associations will also be reaffirmed for religious participants. To analyze the data, we will run an ANOVA test comparing participant’s responses in all four conditions. This research will provide experimental evidence for the link between disasters, religion, and reported meaning in life. In general, this research may provide insight into psychological disaster relief and coping mechanisms that people use to recover from trauma. As the title of the research suggests, we are interested in how people flourish within their given circumstances.


This work is supported by The John Templeton Foundation.

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