The Relationship Between Adolescent Religiosity And Delinquency: Explained By Fuzzy-Trace Theory

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Previous studies have found a significant but moderate relationship between religiosity and decreased delinquent behavior. A significant negative relationship between religious commitment and delinquent behavior was replicated in this study. Investigation into potential theoretical mechanisms, such as fuzzy-trace theory, behind the relationship between delinquent behavior in adolescents (N=807) was pursued. According to fuzzy-trace theory, which is a dualprocess model, endorsement of the categorical (absolute) principle, "no risk is better than some risk," is associated with less risk taking and therefore less delinquent behavior. On the other hand, endorsement of the ordinal (relative) principle, "less risk is better than more risk," is associated with greater risk taking which is likely to lead to more delinquent behavior. It was hypothesized that increased use of gist-based processing would explain unique variance in the protective effect of increased religious commitment on delinquent activity (i.e., use of gist-based processing mediates or moderates the effect of religious commitment on delinquency). As predicted, religious commitment was significantly related to gist-based understanding and practices - a positive relationship between religious commitment and endorsement of the absolute statement was found. When participants endorsed the absolute principle, they were more likely to have higher religious commitment/religious importance while also participating in less overall delinquency. There was also a mediating effect of endorsement of the absolute statement on the occurrence of aggregate delinquent activity, frequency of skipping school, and riskiness of sexual behavior. However, when adolescents who were over the legal age of consent in their state were excluded, the mediation by the absolute statement on the relationship between religious commitment and risky sexual behavior missed significance. There was also a moderating effect of the absolute statement endorsement by aggregate religious commitment on the frequency of illegal drug use. When other factors such as age, gender, time without adult supervision, and ethnicity were controlled for, the significant effects of endorsing the absolute and relative risk statements as well as the positive relationship with religious commitment continued to significantly explain unique variance in delinquent behavior for adolescents. Even when the risky sexual behavior item was removed from the aggregate delinquency scale, the endorsement of the absolute statement as well as religious commitment continued to significantly explain unique variance in the frequency of adolescent delinquent behavior. The relationship between aggregate delinquency and age reflects that as adolescents grow older they are more likely to participate in more frequent delinquent behavior; especially risky sexual behavior. The significance of time without adult supervision and aggregate delinquency suggests that there may be a difference between the opportunity to commit delinquent behavior and the desire to actually commit antisocial behavior. Categorical and ordinal statement endorsement did provide one explanation for the relationship between religious commitment and delinquency, but it also explained unique variance in delinquency, as predicted.

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Fuzzy-Trace Theory; Religiosity; Delinquency


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Reyna, Valerie

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Brainerd, Charles

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Developmental Psychology

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M.A., Developmental Psychology

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Master of Arts

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dissertation or thesis

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