Scrupulosity is a severe psychological discomfort due to the belief that one is sinful. Scruples are defined as uneasy feelings caused by a clash between actions/thoughts and conscience.

The very interesting paper by Abramowitz et al. (1995, p.825) defines scrupulosity as follows:

Persistent doubts about sin and irresistible urges to perform excessive religious behavior, often termed scrupulosity, have long been recognized as symptoms of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD).

and the same paper follows with:

Indeed, the DSM-IV field trial for OCD identified religion as the fifth most common theme of obsessions (after contamination, aggressive, symmetry, and somatic concerns; Foa et al., 1995).

According to the same paper (p.826), common religious obsessions include:

  • fears that one has committed sins (or will do so)

  • intrusive mental images of a sacrilegious or blasphemous nature

  • fears that one will be punished by God or will go to Hell

According to the same paper, common religious compulsions include:

  • excessive praying

  • excessive attention to minor details of religious tradition

  • seeking reassurance from clergy or loved ones about religious matters

The PIOS is designed to measures aspects of scrupulosity.

In a sample of 197 American undergraduate psychology students (with only 12.7% atheists/agnostics), the scores were as follows (Abramowitz et al., 1995, p.832):

Score Average Items Possible scores

Total PIOS score




Fear of God




Fear of sin




You can test OCD on PsyToolkit with the Obsessive–Compulsive Inventory and supernatural beliefs with the Supernatural Belief Scale

Run the demo

It seems that the PIOS can be used for research, but you need to acknowledge the authors and their research paper when writing about it (References).


This is a simple scale question.

The first twelve items are about fear of god and the last 6 about fear of sin. The option "random" interleaves the items randomly, so that the participants do not get all the questions about fear of God or sin together.

The survey code for PsyToolkit

Copy and paste this code to your PsyToolkit account if you want to use the scale in your own online research project
scale: pios_frequency
- {score=0} never
- {score=1} rarely/<br>almost never
- {score=2} sometimes
- {score=3} often
- {score=4} constantly

l: pios
t: scale pios_frequency
o: width 40%
o: random
q: The following statements refer to experiences that people sometimes have.<br>
Please indicate how often you have these experiences.
- I worry I must act morally at all times or I will be punished
- I feel guilty about immoral thoughts I have had
- I feel urges to confess sins over and over again
- I fear I have acted inappropriately without realizing it
- I fear I will act immorally
- I am afraid of having sexual thoughts
- Feeling guilty interferes with my ability to enjoy things I would like to enjoy
- Immoral thoughts come into my head and I can’t get rid of them
- I must try hard to avoid having certain immoral thoughts
- I worry that I might have dishonest thoughts
- I am afraid of having immoral thoughts
- I am very worried that things I did may have been dishonest
- I am afraid my behavior is unacceptable to God
- I worry about Heaven and Hell
- I am afraid my thoughts are unacceptable to God
- I worry I will never have a good relationship with God
- I am afraid that I will disobey God’s rules/laws
- I worry that God is upset with me
- I fear that I might be an evil person

l: pios_total
t: set
- sum $pios

l: pios_god
t: set
- sum $pios.1 $pios.2 $pios.3 $pios.4 $pios.5 $pios.6 $pios.7 $pios.8 $pios.9 $pios.10 $pios.11 $pios.12

l: pios_sin
t: set
- sum $pios.13 $pios.14 $pios.15 $pios.16 $pios.17 $pios.18

l: feedback
t: info
q: Your score on the Penn Inventory of Scrupulosity (PIOS):<br><br>
Total score (possible scores 0-72): {$pios_total}<br>
Fear of God score (possible scores 0-48): {$pios_god}<br>
Fear of sin score (possible scores 0-24): {$pios_sin}<br>


  • Abramowitz, J.S., Hupper, J.D., Cohen, A.B., Tolin, D.F. & Cahill, S.P. (2002). Religious obsessions and compulsions in a non-clinical sample: the Penn Inventory of Scrupulosity (PIOS). Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40, 825-838.