OGDEN -- Two students who collaborated on a research project at Weber State University have received national recognition for their undergraduate research examining how religion affects stepfamily interactions.
While working for bachelor's degrees in family studies at WSU, Michelle Burton and Andrew Chris wrote an extensive paper that took them a year to finish, titled "Religiosity Impacting Stepfamily Dynamics as Mediated by Dyadic Adjustment."
The two will accept the 2010-11 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Project Award by the National Council on Family Relations at the council's annual conference Nov. 18 in Orlando, Fla.
Burton also will accept a President for a Day recognition, which includes a cash award and a chance to shadow the organization's president for a day during the conference.
"Surprisingly, there is no known research that has studied the impact of religiosity on stepfamily dynamics and the marital relationships of those in a stepfamily," said WSU child and family studies associate professor Paul Schvaneveldt.
"For our students to formulate and pursue this kind of research project is impressive. The experience is likely to be more valuable and beneficial than most courses the students could take, because they get to apply theory and knowledge to real-world situations."
Chris already has started a graduate degree program in marriage and family therapy at University of Akron in Ohio since his research was completed. He said the project was key in his being accepted into the four programs to which he applied.
Burton will graduate from WSU on Dec. 3 and plans to study marriage and family therapy at Utah State University.
Both said their project will change the way they approach therapy in the future.
Chris, who is not from a stepfamily, said he noticed during his classes that there wasn't a lot of information about how such families blended, and that piqued his interest.
"I am not from a stepfamily," Chris said. "When I started reading the research, I was immediately humbled by the difficulties that these families had had. I obviously hadn't had those problems. ... You learn that if you are in an intact family, your horrible problems are like their everyday."
Schvaneveldt said it is the fourth time in eight years a WSU student team from the child and family studies department has won this award.
Burton, an Ogden native who comes from a stepfamily, said it was rewarding to bring out this new information.
"It's good to get it out to the families," she said. "It's cutting-edge research that can impact them."
She said the research showed the need for stepfamilies to find common beliefs and to instill them in the family. She said such efforts provided higher levels of communication and less negative interaction.
For their research, Burton and Chris used an online survey that was distributed nationally with the help of the National Stepfamily Day Organization and the Blended and Stepfamily Resource Center.
Based on a sample size of 307 individuals, their study found that intrinsic or extrinsic religiosity influenced stepfamily dynamics, such as communication or conflict.
Schvaneveldt defined religiosity as a person's own views and practices toward a religious tradition.
He said intrinsic religiosity involves personal beliefs and behaviors.
Extrinsic religiosity, he said, is involvement in religious activities for social gain.
"The study showed that higher levels of intrinsic religiosity have a positive impact on the married-couple relationship of those in a stepfamily, and that in turn has a very important and positive impact on family communication, interaction and the ways families solve problems," Schvaneveldt said.
Schvaneveldt said the finding was important because stepfamilies often struggle with higher levels of family conflict and less family cohesion, which makes it hard for couples to maintain high levels of marital satisfaction and commitment. The research concludes that intrinsic religiosity has a more positive impact on stepfamily couple and family dynamics, while higher levels of extrinsic religiosity have a mixed impact.
The paper reporting their findings was selected by a panel of experts as the best in the nation based on the following criteria: uniqueness of the research question; the degree to which the findings contribute to the field; clarity of writing; good use of theory; comprehensive literature review, building upon previous work; sound research methodology; and application for practitioners and/or likelihood of spurring future research.
Burton and Chris credit Schvaneveldt for their success, along with WSU's Office of Undergraduate Research, which provided $3,500 in financial assistance to the project.
They used the money to pay survey participants $5 each with online coupons.
Both students plan to use their findings as the basis for future research in graduate school.