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Jun 17, 2013 09:36 AM EDT

Teenagers who consider themselves 'spiritual but not religious' (agnostics) are more involved in property crimes than young adults who classify themselves as either 'religious and spiritual' or 'religious but not spiritual' (believers) or 'neither spiritual nor religious,' (atheists), according to a study conducted by the Baylor University.

"The notion of being spiritual but not associated with any organized religion has become increasingly popular, and our question is how that is different from being religious, whether you call yourself 'spiritual' or not," said Sung Joon Jang, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an associate professor of sociology in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences.

The researchers arrived at the conclusion after examining data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The study looked at data of 14,322 individuals in the age group of 18 to 28. The average age was determined to be 21.8.

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The confidential survey asked participants to disclose how often they had committed crimes in the last 12 months, including violent crimes such as physical fights or armed robbery and property crimes such as vandalism, theft and burglary.

The survey determined that agonistics committed the highest percentage of theft, vandalism and burglary. The atheists and agnostics scored same points in the violent crime category. Religious people, however committed fewer crimes when compared to the other two cohorts. A previous study had also found that believers were less susceptible to crimes.

"Calling oneself 'spiritual but not religious' turned out to more of an antisocial characteristic, unlike identifying oneself as religious," said Baylor researcher Aaron Franzen, a doctoral candidate and study co-author.

The Baylor researchers believe that people who deem themselves as spiritual but not religious are more broad-minded than the religious group, but could be either more or less conservative than the 'atheists' group.

"We were thinking that religious people would have an institutional and communal attachment and investment, while the spiritual people would have more of an independent identity," Franzen said.

The study has revealed that people who think they are spiritual but not religious are likely to have lower self-control than those who are religious. They are also prone to depression, anxiety and self-victimization. These traits are small indicators of potential criminal behavior.

For researchers, "It's a challenge to know it actually means to be spiritual, because the individuals self-identify," Franzen said. "But they are different in some way, as our study shows."

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