Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

A. Ajay Vyas, Gina Magyar-Russell, Ph.D.

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Effects of Spiritual Transcendence and Gender as well as Spiritual Transcendence and History of Abuse on Self-Actualization and Self Reports of Pro-Social Behaviors

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Spiritual transcendence is emerging as a significant construct for determining the role spirituality plays in healing and recovery (Piedmont, 2004). Recent studies have begun to look at acts of pro-social behavior by individuals who have suffered from physical and sexual abuse and have discovered that while many individuals suffering from trauma have difficulty trusting individuals and their environment as a whole, those with experiences that transform the meaning of past suffering, such as deep spiritual experiences, can lead victims of abuse to turn toward and care for those around them (Vollhardt, 2009).

In order to determine if the use of a standardized measure of spirituality will elucidate the influence of spirituality, gender and history of abuse on rates of pro-social behaviors and self-actualization, the responses of 474 adult participants ranging in age from 18-90 years (M=40.90, SD=14.76) were analyzed. Participants were selected from a convenience sample using a snowball technique. The demographics of the sample was 324 (68%) female and 150 (42%) male. The sample included 211 (45%) White, 53 (11%) Black, 121 (26%) Asian , 7 (1%) Hispanic, and 24 (5%) Arab participants. Participants were also from diverse religious backgrounds with 221 (47%) Catholics, 189 (40%) Protestants, 45 (9%) from other faith traditions and 19 (4%) reporting as agnostic or atheist. Participants completed self-report measures of history of abuse, pro-social behaviors, self-actualization, and spirituality. Independent-samples t-tests were conducted to compare (a) pro-social behaviors in abuse and no abuse history conditions, (b) pro-social behaviors in high and low spirituality conditions, and (c) self-actualization in high and low spirituality conditions. Individuals with a history of abuse (M=58.16, SD=11.95) reported significantly higher levels of pro-social behaviors than those without abuse (M=54.17, SD=12.33; t (472) = -3.20, p < .01). Individuals with higher levels of spiritual transcendence reported significantly higher levels of pro-social behaviors (M=57.71, SD=12.72) than those with lower levels of spiritual transcendence (M=51.91, SD=10.96; t (454.94) = 5.30, p < 0.001).

Individuals with higher levels of spiritual transcendence reported significantly higher levels of self-actualization (M=39.81, SD=5.20) than those with lower levels of spiritual transcendence (M=37.28, SD=5.38; t (472) = 5.13, p < 0.001). Interestingly, the findings from this study suggest that individuals with a history of abuse are more likely to report pro-social behaviors. Thus being a victim of abuse may lead individuals to be more observant and concerned about the needs of others. Additionally, individuals with high self-ratings of spirituality are more likely to report pro-social behaviors and greater self-actualization. The use of a standardized, validated measure of spirituality can shed insight on the influence of spirituality on psycho-social measures like pro-social behaviors and self-actualization.