Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Comparing Atheist, Non-Religious, And Religious Peoples' Cardiovascular Reactivity: A Laboratory Stressor

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

William O'Brien (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Danielle Kuhl (Other)

Third Advisor

Verner Bingman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Eric Dubow (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Joshua Grubbs (Committee Member)


Atheists and the non-religious have historically been excluded from cardiovascular research assessing the relation between religion and reactivity. Researchers have suggested that atheists and the non-religious ought to have increased cardiovascular reactivity and decreased recovery following a stressor. The primary theoretical justifications for this hypothesized difference are atheists/non-religious lack religious coping resources or that they are exposed to minority stress. However, few previous studies have incorporated atheists, had adequate methodology to explore this relation, or used measures designed to appropriately categorize atheist/non-religious participants. In order to explore this relation, 61 participants were recruited and using the Non-Religious Non-Spiritual Scale, were separated into three groups: atheist, non-religious, or religious. Participants were then exposed to a social stressor to elicit cardiovascular reactivity. Heart rate, high-frequency heart rate variability, and blood pressure were recorded during the experimental procedure. Results indicated that contrary to the hypotheses derived from extant literature, atheists, non-religious, and religious participants did not significantly differ on measures of cardiovascular reactivity or recovery.