Several studies have shown protective effects between health outcomes and subjective reports of religious/spiritual (R/S) importance, as measured by a single self-report item. In a 3-generation study of individuals at high or low familial risk for depression, R/S importance was found to be protective against depression, as indicated by clinical and neurobiological outcomes. The psychological components underlying these protective effects, however, remain little understood. Hence, to clarify the meaning of answering the R/S importance item, we employed a comprehensive set of validated scales assessing religious beliefs and experiences and exploratory factor analysis to uncover latent R/S constructs that strongly and independently correlated with the single-item measure of R/S importance. A Varimax-rotated principal component analysis (PCA) resulted in a 23-factor solution (Eigenvalue > 1; 71.5% explained variance) with 8 factors that, respectively, accounted for at least 3% of the total variance. The first factor (15.8%) was directly related to the R/S importance item (r = .819), as well as personal relationship with the Divine, forgiveness by God, religious activities, and religious coping, while precluding gratitude, altruism, and social support, among other survey subscales. The corresponding factor scores were greater in older individuals and those at low familial risk. Moreover, Spearman rank-order correlations between the R/S importance item and other subscales revealed relative consistency across generations and risk groups. Taken together, the single R/S importance item constituted a robust measure of what may be generally conceived of as "religious importance," ranking highest among a diverse latent factor structure of R/S. As this suggests adequate single-item construct validity, it may be adequate for use in health studies lacking the resources for more extensive measures. Nonetheless, given that this single item accounted for only a small fraction of the total survey variance, results based on the item should be interpreted and applied with caution.
PMID: 31626682 [PubMed - in process]