Psychology Undergraduate Research Symposium 2021

Sources of Religious Guilt

In this project, I sought to answer the question: Does participation in religions increase the intensity of sexual guilt? Prior research has shown that religious individuals experience higher levels of interpersonal guilt than those who are not religious and that religious affiliation predicts moral judgment on sexual situations. I administered a survey to undergraduate students recruited from SONA that included scales measuring religiosity, sexual attitudes, guilt proneness, and self-esteem. Participants also reported their sources of religious guilt and the frequency they experience it. A second study was conducted specifically with Roman Catholic students from 15 universities across America to investigate Catholic guilt. I administered a survey containing questions regarding sources of Catholic guilt, Christian orthodoxy, frequency in participating in Catholic rituals and personality traits. The findings demonstrate that reports of sex as a source of religious guilt did not correlate with degree of religiosity. 

College of Arts & Sciences 2021
Advised By
Dr. Gordon Bermant
College of Arts & Sciences 2021
Advised By
Dr. Gordon Bermant


April 30 | 10:43 AM : by

Danielle, Nice project!  If I understand correctly the Mosher scale focuses on change.  0 corresponds to much less religious than upbringing and 100 reflects much more than upbringing.  So someone who is extremely religious but was also raised extremely religious would score a 50 rather a 100. Do you think your results would differ if your scale focused less on change?  What are other sources of guilt in the measures besides religious?  Liz Brannon

April 30 | 3:47 PM : by

Hi Danielle,

This is an interesting project looking at a really complex set of problems.  Like you, I've done research in the past attempting to disentangle "religiosity" and "spirituality" from the ethnic/cultural background in which someone was raised.  There are LOTS of atheist/agnostic Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus who identify strongly with a particular cultural and family background, and may even take part in many formal rituals, community gatherings (at churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) and specific holidays, but do not "believe" in the foundational stories or the deities of the religion.  It's important to try to separate belief from cultural identity, as you discovered!  

I'm curious about your measure of "religious guilt" and what it captures.  I take it this is a separate construct from guilt about sex and sexuality?  

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Dr. Hunt

May 03 | 3:02 PM : by

Hi Danielle

Interesting study! What was religious guilt and how did it differ from sexual guilt? In the second study, those who were not relgious felt similar to those who were religious in their sexual guilt, correct? Why? And do you think some degree of guilt is healthy? If so, how much would that be? Lots of big questions - and you've done a very nice job. 

Best wishes

Barb Mellers

May 05 | 3:34 PM : by

Hi Danielle, I am curious about the implications of this study.  Are there known negative impacts of sexual guilt?  On the other hand, does sexual guilt as encouraged by religion serve a personal or society benefit?  Does a reduction in sexual guilt in non-religious persons lead major differences in relationships?  I appreciate your focusing on this intersection of personal decisions and powerful social forces.


Best wishes,

Lori Flanagan-Cato