Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Kevin S. Masters


conceptualization, judgment analysis, measurement, policy capturing, religion, spirituality

Subject Categories



Though psychologists' interest in the empirical study of spirituality has resurfaced, diverging opinions regarding the meaning of the construct among both researchers and the general public pose a serious challenge to research. To expand knowledge regarding how individuals implicitly define the term, an idiographic, experimental approach called policy-capturing was utilized to determine what factors college students take into consideration when making determinations about others' spirituality. Participants were exposed to a series of 50 profiles describing hypothetical people, each of which contained a unique combination of different levels of five factors believed to characterize spirituality by researchers. Participants rated each profile to indicate degree of perceived spirituality. Regression analyses were utilized to reveal if individuals used the factors in a consistent manner when rating the profiles, as well as the relative importance of each factor in their policies of spirituality. Results indicated that consistency of policies and the importance placed on individual factors varied widely. No differences were found between more religious and less religious college students with regard to ratings of spirituality assigned to the profiles, consistency of policies of spirituality, the relative importance of any of the five spirituality factors, or the number of factors that were important in the policies. Findings support the idiosyncratic nature of the meanings attributed to spirituality, but call into question whether college students are consistently using the same definitional models of the construct as used by researchers. The discussion highlights the conceptual challenges that researchers of spirituality face and encourages the use of varied methods for continued investigation in this area.


Open Access

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Psychology Commons