One God but three concepts: Complexity in Christians’ representations of God

Carissa Sharp, Peter J. Rentfrow, Nicholas J. S. Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Research exploring God representations has tended to assume that these constructs are unitary in nature. However, a considerable research literature has illustrated ways in which people’s representations of self and others are complex. Given that Christians believe in 1 God but also the 3 distinct members of the Trinity, the present research used this theological construct to test whether religious believers can have structurally complex God representations, examining within-subject differences in Christian participants’ understandings of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Study 1 compared descriptions of the Trinity using adjective checklists, self/other overlap, and target-directed emotions; Study 2 compared personality judgments of the Trinity; and Study 3 investigated the relative salience of each way of thinking about God using a reaction time (RT) paradigm. Results demonstrated that, consistent with believers having cognitively complex God representations, participants had differentiated ways of thinking about and relating to each member of the Trinity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-105
JournalPsychology of Religion and Spirituality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


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