Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ridiculous Study from UBC

I'm just going to post sections of the article with my critique beneath, basically taken right from the conversation I had with my friend just a minute ago while reading it. Sort of a 'stream of blognsciousness' thing.

UBC Researchers surprised by the role spirituality plays
by Bud Mortenson

What makes you happy? Spirituality typically accounts for four or five per cent of an adult’s happiness, but new research has found a much stronger influence of spirituality in children.

Four or five percent of an adult's happiness? What the fuck does that mean?

Mark Holder, Assoc. Prof. of Psychology at UBC Okanagan, and graduate student Judi Wallace recently tested 315 children aged nine to 12, measuring spirituality and other factors such as temperament and social relations that can affect an individual’s sense of happiness.

“Our goal was to see whether there’s a relation between spirituality and happiness,” Holder says. “We knew going in that there was such a relation in adults, so we took multiple measures of spirituality and happiness in children.”

The results were a surprise – 6.5 to 16.5 per cent of children’s happiness can be accounted for by spirituality.

They just state these numbers as if there is some meaning there. There isn't. First of all, how do you measure total happiness, let alone "partial happiness" that you can pin to a specific cause? Second, they haven't said that spirituality makes anyone more happy, they just say it makes up 6-16% of whatever happiness kids happen to have. They could be significantly less happy, but spirituality plays a larger role in that smaller whole. Hell, spirituality could reduce happiness by eliminating other sources, making it necessarily a larger slice of the smaller pie. In normal children, sinning might account for 39% of happiness, but religious children don't have that, so overall happiness is reduced, but proportional happiness from other sources is higher.

“From our perspective, it’s a whopping big effect,” says Holder. “I expected it to be much less – I thought their spirituality would be too immature to account for their well-being.”

“Spirituality is easiest to describe as having an inner belief system,” Wallace notes. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, she cautions that “spirituality is not religiosity, which is often more organized, and may be church-based.”

What does THAT mean? How do you not have an inner belief system? You can't go around defining words in such a vague way or they tend to lose any sort of relevant meaning. This article is highly flawed and my guess is that the reporter has some profound misunderstandings of the study itself, which may be valid.

To describe their daily spiritual experiences, private religious practices, and whether they think of themselves as religious or spiritual, children in the study rated statements such as “I feel a higher power’s presence,” and answered questions including “how often do you pray or meditate privately outside of church or other places of worship?” Parents were also asked to describe each child’s apparent happiness and spirituality, and teachers rated each child’s happiness level.

What the hell do you expect to gain by asking a nine year old if they feel the presence of a higher power? A nine year old doesn't know what the fuck that means. Hell, I don't know what that's supposed to mean. Oh Jesus, and parents were asked to report the children's spirituality and happiness. Yeah, thats scientific. That means spiritual families (i.e. the most deluded people) reported that their children are the happiest. Reliable? I think not.

While the connection between spirituality and happiness in adults has been established, Holder says relatively little is known about the connection between spirituality and happiness in children.

Factors such as gender or money contribute very little to happiness, says Holder. “In fact, the contribution of money to happiness explains less than one per cent.” They found that whether children attend public or private school has virtually no impact on their happiness.

There are lots of new questions to explore – such as how to improve the well-being of children by applying this new understanding of what contributes to happiness.

“This research represents the first steps in that direction,” Holder says. With funding from UBC Okanagan and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, he has formed a research group nicknamed the Happy Lab to examine the biology, psychology and assessment of happiness.

The researchers have identified several possible reasons why spirituality and happiness are linked. Spirituality produces a sense of meaning, it stimulates hope, reinforces positive social norms, and can provide a social support network – all things that can improve a person’s well-being.

So spirituality simply means having an inner belief system, it is separate from religion, and yet it produces meaning, hope, positive social norms, and support networks? Can there not be negative inner beliefs that reduce hope? Or have the researchers just completely confused "spirituality" with "Christianity" at this point? Sounds like it.

Wallace, who conducted the in-school testing, envisions a day when activities that improve happiness are built into the school experience.

Uh WHAT? If a belief in false gods makes you happy, that doesn't mean they should teach it in school. School is for facts, not fuzzy warm feelings. You know what else increases happiness? Heroin.

Why not go further? What if it turned out that the Jewish form of spirituality produces more happiness than the Christian form? Would the researchers recommend all families convert?

“We would love to have a way to apply our research findings in the schools,” she says. “A program in elementary schools promoting positive psychology might involve giving students cameras to take pictures of things they think are beautiful or give meaning to their life.”

“It creates a ‘search image’ – an anticipation – to look for beauty in the world,” Holder explains, adding that a number of simple activities can go a long way to promote student happiness.

“Rather than a child saying ‘this is what I did today,’ they could be asked to come up with three things they’re thankful for – different things each day. That greatly increases happiness,” he says. “Or students could list daily activities that contributed to the community, or teachers could have them look at what they do that makes a difference.”

It sounds like the way they define spirituality is "anything that makes you happy". Apparently a tendency to notice beautiful things, and having things to be thankful for count as spirituality. I can make up words too! Science is fun!

Happier people are more tolerant, creative, and productive, Holder says. “If we could promote happiness in children, it might come with these attractive traits.”

The team’s findings were presented at the World Congress on Psychology and Spirituality in India in January. “People from Portugal, Australia and India are interested in our research and possibly trying to duplicate it in their own countries,” says Wallace. But, she says, the findings are also having an impact much closer to home.

“What we’re learning is useful in our own lives,” Wallace says. “At the dinner table, we ask our own children to list all the good things that happened that day. It’s actually pretty easy to increase the happiness of your family.”

Again, how does that relate to spirituality?

“We do take the research personally,” Holder agrees. “It’s not just academic to us.”

Spoken like a true scientist.

The next phase of the study will look at families, not just the children. “We have collected data on the parents’ happiness and spirituality,” Holder says, “so we will be able to look at the relation and independence of parents and their children’s spirituality.”

Well... there you have it. The conclusion? Things that make people happy make children happy through some vague and bizzare statistical proportionality, and must be taught in schools at the expense of those yucky facts. YOU CAN'T HUG FACTS PEOPLE!

1 comment:

Dave Foree said...

Funny, funny stuff...

You know, though, it wouldn't be too hard to run a regression on self-reported rankings of spirituality and happiness and get specific correlations between the two. What would be even easier, though, would be to write an article that included the line, "Correlation does not, at all, imply causality."

It should be pretty obvious, one would think, that "spirituality" makes kids happier than it does adults because they're being lied to by their parents. Exogenous variables, dammit. Adults don't have the luxury of some authority figure telling them that life is grand, and death is grand, and God will solve all problems...

Wait a sec - They do!

Apparently this study just proves that adults are slightly less likely to believe their priests than children are to believe their parents. Huzzah!