Religious orientation and naturally occurring stress: Ecological momentary assessment of cardiovascular function

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Kevin S. Masters


Religious orientation, Stress, Cardiovascular function, Blood pressure

Subject Categories



Research suggests that religious orientation may impact cardiovascular stress response. Historically, the concept of religious orientation focused on intrinsic and extrinsic religiousness as has research investigating the relationship between religious orientation and cardiovascular stress response. These findings indicate that older intrinsically religious adults demonstrate reduced blood pressure and heart rate reactivity to interpersonal laboratory stressors as compared to older extrinsically religious individuals. A more recent study found that pro-religious adults showed decreased cardiovascular reactivity to laboratory stressors as compared to adults with an intrinsic or non-religious orientation. Although these findings provide valuable information about the religion-health relationship, the study of religious orientation and cardiovascular stress response is still in its early stages. For example, the relationship between religious orientation and cardiovascular response to naturally occurring daily stressors has not been studied. Consequently, this study: (1) explored the relationship between religious orientation and the rate of occurrence of overall stress, interpersonal stress, and non-interpersonal stress, and (2) tested the hypothesis that individuals with a pro-religious orientation would display reduced cardiovascular response to naturally occurring interpersonal stressors as compared to the intrinsic and non-religious groups. Hypotheses were tested using a community sample (n=83) of middle-aged to older adults (40-65 years) with measures of religious orientation, stress, and 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) and ambulatory heart rate (AHR). Findings from this study did not reveal statistically significant relationships between religious orientation and cardiovascular response to naturally occurring stress. Visual inspection of these non-significant results does show, however, that the pro-religious group experienced fewer stressors, specifically interpersonal stressors, over the course of a 24-hour period. Surprisingly, the pro-religious group also demonstrated considerable decreases in SBP, DBP, and HR responses to those stressors that they had identified as being the strongest in intensity as compared to the no stress (for SBP and HR), some stress (for SBP, DBP, and HR), and moderate stress (for SBP, DBP, and HR) categories. The intrinsic group showed the largest increases in cardiovascular response to the stressors they identified as being very strong. These observations suggest that religious orientation may be an important variable to consider when examining middle-aged and older adults? cardiovascular responding to stressors in naturalistic environments, particularly, interpersonal stressors.