An alternative perspective of a recent study published in a psychological journal.
I believe the larger contributing factor is the social support offered by a higher power, which exists regardless of location or surrounding culture
Miami, FL (1888PressRelease) October 26, 2012 - Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, has released a study indicating that religious people have a higher self-esteem and are better psychologically adjusted than non-believers. According to the study, this is only true in countries that place a high value on religion.
Gathering their data from eDarling questionnaires, a European dating site akin to eHarmony, researchers concluded that believers only were psychologically benefited if they were surrounded by a culture that places a high emphasis on religion. According to Jochen Gebauer of the Humboldt-Universitšt zu Berlin, "We think you only pat yourself on the back for being religious if you live in a social system that values religiosity," Gebauer says. So a very religious person might have high social self esteem in religious Poland, but not in non-religious Sweden."
Meghan Tar, a student majoring in both religious studies and psychology at the University of Miami in the United States offers an alternative perspective.
According to Tar, "While a culture's value system plays a fundamental role in determining how individuals feel about themselves, I think an alternative way of understanding the importance of religion is that it creates an outlet to release negativity. When something goes wrong, there is a supremely good, loving, all-knowing entity we can pray to in efforts to alleviate our suffering. People may have a higher self esteem and a healthier mentality in general simply because they are provided with this emotional outlet."
Multiple empirical studies bolster Tar's argument. According to Shane Sharp's "How Does Prayer Help Manage Emotions?", "scholars have shown that individuals use prayer to manage negative emotions caused by suffering from a major illness (e.g., Hawley and Irutia 1998; Koenig, George, and Siegler 1988; Thompson et al. 1993), experiencing a traumatic event (e.g., Harris et al. 2008; Meisenhelder and Marcum 2004), or experiencing a negative life event in general (e.g., Bade and Cook 2008; Harris et al. 2005)."
Though cultural approval may help enhance the benefits of religious affiliation, Tar argues that the real driving force behind the psychological benefits of religion are primarily due to the allowance of emotional venting.
"Don't get me wrong, I certainly agree that culture plays a fundamental role in deciding what is considered a positive act, or whether religion is a good thing, but I believe the larger contributing factor is the social support offered by a higher power, which exists regardless of location or surrounding culture."