Morality and the Religious Mind: Why theists and non-theists differ

Article (PDF Available)inTrends in Cognitive Sciences 18(9) · December 2014with 4,496 Reads
DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.05.003
Abstract
Religions have come to be intimately tied to morality, and much recent research has shown that theists and non-theists differ in their moral behavior and decision-making along several dimensions. Here we discuss how these empirical trends can be explained by fundamental differences in group commitment, motivations for prosociality, cognitive styles, and meta-ethics. We conclude by elucidating key areas of moral congruence.
Morality
and
the
religious
mind:
why
theists
and
nontheists
differ
Azim
F.
Shariff
1*
,
Jared
Piazza
2*
,
and
Stephanie
R.
Kramer
1*
1
University
of
Oregon,
1227
University
of
Oregon,
Eugene,
OR
97403,
USA
2
University
of
Pennsylvania,
3720
Walnut
Street,
Solomon
Labs
Building,
Philadelphia,
PA
19104,
USA
Religions
have
come
to
be
intimately
tied
to
morality
and
much
recent
research
has
shown
that
theists
and
nontheists
differ
in
their
moral
behavior
and
decision
making
along
several
dimensions.
Here
we
discuss
how
these
empirical
trends
can
be
explained
by
fundamental
differences
in
group
commitment,
motivations
for
pro-
sociality,
cognitive
styles,
and
meta-ethics.
We
conclude
by
elucidating
key
areas
of
moral
congruence.
Introduction
Despite
declining
religiosity
across
the
world,
a
recent
Pew
survey
found
that,
in
most
of
the
40
tested
countries,
a
clear
majority
of
respondents
agreed
that
believing
in
God
is
essential
to
morality
[Pew
Research
Center
(2014)
Worldwide,
Many
See
Belief
in
God
as
Essential
to
Morality
(www.pewglobal.org/files/2014/03/Pew-Research-Center-
Global-Attitudes-Project-Belief-in-God-Report-FINAL-
March-13-2014.pdf)].
Rates
were
highest
in
Central
Asia
and
West
Africa,
but
even
in
the
USA
53%
agreed
that
belief
was
necessary
to
be
a
good
person.
Conversely,
critics
of
religion
have
cited
religious
faith
as
being
a
roadblock
to
moral
progress
or,
at
best,
motivation
for
doing
the
right
thing
for
the
wrong
reasons.
Do
those
who
believe
in
a
god
or
gods
differ
from
those
who
do
not
in
their
morality
and,
if
so,
in
what
ways?
The
difference
between
theists’
and
nontheists’
morality
is
a
topic
of
strong
opinions.
During
the
past
several
years,
however,
psychological
research
has
revealed
several
con-
sistent
trends.
(i)
Theists
tend
to
direct
their
prosociality
more
paro-
chially
toward
ingroup
members,
compared
with
nontheists’
more
universal
scope.
(ii)
The
prosociality
of
theists
and
nontheists
is
motivat-
ed
by
different
social
cues.
(iii)
Theists
and
nontheists
use
different
criteria
to
determine
which
actions
are
immoral.
We
propose
that
these
trends
are
the
product
of
psycho-
logical
differences
in
social
investment,
motivations
for
prosocial
behavior,
meta-ethics,
and
cognitive
styles.
We
conclude
with
an
explanation
of
the
areas
of
moral
overlap
between
theists
and
nontheists.
Groupishness
and
religious
sociality
Following
Durkheim,
many
contemporary
psychologists
hold
that
effectively
binding
individuals
into
tight-knit
communities
is
one
of
the
key
reasons
for
the
cultural
success
and
pervasiveness
of
world
religions
(e.g.,
[1,2]).
Many
aspects
of
religions
such
as
their
emphasis
on
credibility-enhancing
displays
of
commitment
serve
to
create
an
ideologically
aligned
and
cohesive
ingroup
[2].
One
consequence
of
this
social
connectedness
is
that,
due
to
their
tendency
to
have
more
social
relationships
and
sup-
port,
theists
are
generally
happier
than
nontheists
[1].
However,
this
tighter
social
connection
may
also
lead
to
more
parochial
moral
attitudes
selectively
favoring
the
ingroup
and
actively
derogating
the
outgroup.
It
is
well
established,
for
instance,
that
theists
exhibit
higher
levels
of
social
discrimination
(e.g.,
[3]).
Recently,
religious-prim-
ing
techniques
established
causal
direction:
being
sublimi-
nally
exposed
to
religious
words
or
simply
being
in
the
presence
of
a
church
causes
believers
to
report
colder
attitudes
toward
marginalized
groups,
including
atheists,
ethnic
minorities,
and
homosexuals
[4].
Similarly,
simply
asking
Israeli
Jews
about
their
religious
attendance
en-
hanced
admiration
for
a
Jewish
terrorist
who
killed
Pales-
tinian
Muslims
(although,
notably,
asking
about
prayer
frequency
did
not
produce
the
same
results)
[5].
These
anti-outgroup
findings
are
consistent
with
the-
ists’
higher
levels
of
ingroup
support.
Believers
tend
to
be
more
charitable
and
prosocial;
however,
much
of
this
al-
truism
is
directed
toward
the
religious
ingroup
[6].
Al-
though
superficially
paradoxical,
theists’
ingroup
generosity
and
outgroup
derogation
actually
represent
two
sides
of
the
same
coin;
the
coalitional
nature
of
religion
is
a
powerful
fuel
for
ingroup
sociality,
exploiting
and
exaggerating
an
evolved
human
tendency
for
parochialism.
Nontheists
also
possess
this
tendency,
of
course,
but
they
are
less
likely
to
find
themselves
in
groups
as
cohesive
or
as
entrenched
in
explicit
moralizing
as
those
based
on
religion.
Prosocial
motives
Religious
groups
exert
strong
pressure
on
group
members
to
conform
to
the
requirements
and
moral
ideals
of
the
community
[1,2].
Although
the
drive
to
appear
virtuous
to
others
is
all
but
universal,
it
is
especially
pronounced
among
theists.
An
extensive
meta-analysis
found
theists
scoring
consistently
higher
than
nontheists
on
measures
of
socially
desirable
responding
[7].
The
belief
in
a
watchful,
morally
judgmental
supernat-
ural
agent
supplements
the
social
scrutiny
that
believers
Science
&
Society
1364-6613/
ß
2014
Elsevier
Ltd.
All
rights
reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2014.05.003
Corresponding
author:
Shariff,
A.F.
Keywords:
religion;
morality;
atheism;
prosocial
behavior.
*
All
authors
contributed
equally
to
this
article.
Trends
in
Cognitive
Sciences,
September
2014,
Vol.
18,
No.
9
439
experience
within
their
communities.
Extensive
religious-
priming
research
reveals
that
supernatural
monitoring
functions
similarly
to
social
monitoring,
promoting
public
self-awareness
and
prosocial
behavior
[7].
Reverence
for
an
omniscient,
punitive
god
thus
provides
an
additional,
ef-
fective
mechanism
to
ensure
that
theists’
behavior
corre-
sponds
to
the
values
and
demands
of
the
group,
especially
in
anonymous
situations
in
which
the
lack
of
earthly
observation
might
tempt
selfish
behavior
[8].
Thus,
belief
in
supernatural
monitoring
exploits
theists’
elevated
rep-
utational
concerns
to
discourage
selfish
behavior
that
might
disrupt
the
unity
of
the
group.
A
recent
meta-analysis
revealed
that
nontheists,
by
contrast,
are
generally
unaffected
by
invocations
of
super-
natural
agents;
compared
with
baseline,
nontheists
tend
to
be
no
more
prosocial
when
primed
with
god
concepts
(A.F.
Shariff
et
al.,
unpublished).
Nontheists
do,
however,
show
increases
in
prosocial
behavior
when
primed
with
concepts
relating
to
secular
institutions,
such
as
courts
and
the
police
[8].
The
increased
presence
and
effectiveness
of
these
institutions
has
to
some
degree
mitigated
the
neces-
sity
of
supernatural
monitoring,
especially
in
countries
where
governments
are
strong
and
corruption
is
low.
Perhaps
not
coincidentally,
religion
and
anti-atheist
dis-
trust
tend
to
be
less
prevalent
in
areas
with
strong
and
efficient
secular
institutions
for
monitoring
behavior
and
enforcing
norms.
Reminding
theists
of
the
presence
of
effective
secular
institutions
and
thus
the
implication
that
religion
is
not
the
only
guarantor
of
ethical
behavior
reduces
the
degree
to
which
atheists
are
viewed
with
distrust
[9].
Cognitive
styles
and
meta-ethics
For
believers,
God
is
not
just
the
ultimate
arbiter
of
justice,
but
the
author
of
morality
itself.
This
meta-ethical
belief
provides
theists
with
a
unique
foundation
for
thinking
about
moral
issues,
distinct
from
their
nonreligious
coun-
terparts
[10].
Recent
research
suggests
that
theists
are
moral
objectivists;
that
is,
they
tend
to
believe
that
when
two
people
disagree
about
a
moral
issue,
only
one
person
can
be
correct.
By
contrast,
nontheists
are
more
inclined
than
theists
to
view
morality
as
subjective
or
culturally
relative.
Critically,
however,
this
difference
is
more
pro-
nounced
with
regard
to
moral
issues
that
have
little
to
do
with
harm
or
injustice
(e.g.,
sexual
conduct).
This
divergence
in
meta-ethics
may
underlie
other
mor-
al
differences
between
theists
and
nontheists.
According
to
utilitarian
morality,
the
violation
of
a
moral
rule
(e.g.,
‘don’t
lie’)
is
permissible,
or
even
obligatory,
under
condi-
tions
in
which
the
transgression
would
optimize
welfare
for
the
greatest
number
of
people.
Recent
research
suggests
that,
across
a
number
of
moral
domains,
theists
are
less
willing
than
nontheists
to
base
judgments
on
such
utili-
tarian
thinking
[10,11]
(Figure
1).
One
possible
explanation
for
this
finding
is
that
believ-
ers
are
less
analytical
than
nonbelievers
and
thus
are
less
likely
to
engage
in
a
careful,
utilitarian
analysis
of
the
situation
[12].
Given
the
demonstrated
connection
between
intuitive,
‘System
1’
thinking
and
deontological
decision
making,
this
is
a
compelling
possibility
(see
Box
1
for
this
and
other
open
questions).
One
recent
and
potentially
inconsistent
finding
showed
that
religious
individuals
are
slower
than
nontheists
when
resolving
dilemmas
be-
tween
deontological
and
utilitarian
choices
[13].
This
may
indicate
that
religious
individuals
are
engaging
in
more
reflective
thinking
than
are
nontheists.
Alternatively,
how-
ever,
if
theists
view
rule
violations
as
disobedience
to
God,
their
slower
response
time
could
be
the
product
of
an
attempt
to
resolve
the
cognitive
conflict
between
two
(oc-
casionally)
opposing
moral
principles
utilitarian
benefits
and
a
deontological
obedience
to
God’s
moral
authority.
Finally,
religious
individuals
appear
to
moralize
a
wider
range
of
actions
beyond
those
pertaining
to
harm
and
injustice,
including
disobedience
of
authority,
disloyalty
to
one’s
ingroup,
and
sexual
impurity
[1,10].
At
the
indi-
vidual
level,
theists’
broad
morality
may
simply
be
the
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
% selecng deontological opon
Religious
Key:
Non-religious
*
*
*
*
*
*
Torture
Killing
Stealing
Lying
Betrayal
Treason
Slander
Break law
Break promise
TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences
Figure
1.
Religious
individuals
are
more
likely
than
nonreligious
individuals
to
adopt
a
deontological
rather
than
utilitarian
stance
toward
various
transgressions
(
p
<
0.007),
with
the
exception
of
torture,
killing,
and
breaking
promises
(
p
>
0.176).
Participants
chose
whether
each
action
is:
(i)
never
permissible
to
perform
(deontological
stance);
(ii)
permissible
to
perform
if
more
good
than
bad
results
(weak
utilitarian
stance);
or
(iii)
obligatory
to
perform
if
more
good
than
bad
results
(strong
utilitarian
stance).
Data
adapted,
with
permission,
from
[11].
Box
1.
Unresolved
questions
and
hypotheses
for
future
research
(i)
Is
social
affiliation
and
reputation
management
a
stronger
moral
motive
for
theists?
The
more
intense
groupishness
of
theists
may
lead
them
to
be
more
motivated
than
nontheists
to
maintain
moral
standing
in
the
eyes
of
their
community,
in
terms
of
both
moral
behavior
and
moralizing
(which
may
be
used
as
a
tool
to
signal
group
affiliation).
These
differences
should
be
exacerbated
in
nonanonymous
situa-
tions
and
in
larger
and
more
densely
connected
ingroups.
(ii)
Is
universal
humanity
a
stronger
moral
motive
for
nontheists?
If
nontheists
take
a
more
universalist
perspective
than
theists,
framing
charitable
giving
in
terms
of
the
benefits
to
humanity
should
be
a
stronger
motive
for
nontheists.
(iii)
Are
nontheists
more
analytical
in
their
moral
decision-
making?
If
cognitive
style
differences
are
responsible
for
nontheists
being
more
utilitarian,
being
under
cognitive
load
or
time
pressure
should
make
nontheists
as
deontological
as
theists.
(iv)
Under
what
conditions
will
theists
and
nontheists
agree?
Theists
and
nontheists
should
agree
in
their
moral
outrage
when
a
target
is
(a)
perceived
to
have
moral
standing
and
(b)
the
victim
of
unwarranted
harm
or
injustice
(i.e.,
their
interests
are
selfishly
violated).
Science
&
Society Trends
in
Cognitive
Sciences
September
2014,
Vol.
18,
No.
9
440
product
of
theists’
belief
in
and
adherence
to
moral
rules
espoused
by
their
religion.
For
example,
the
moralization
of
purity
may
be
due
to
theists’
greater
sacralization
of
the
human
body
and
how
it
is
used.
However,
these
moralizing
differences
may
also
reflect
fundamental
differences
in
emo-
tional
temperaments.
Theists’
greater
moral
concern
about
purity
may
be
due
to
theists’
greater
sensitivity
to
disgust
and/or
greater
reliance
on
such
emotions
when
making
moral
judgments.
At
the
group
level,
theists’
broad
morality
may
reflect
both
the
use
of
moralization
as
a
marker
of
group
affiliation
and
submission
to
rules
such
as
obedience
and
loyalty
that
sustain
group
cohesion
and
success.
A
common
humanity
Although
theists
and
nontheists
disagree
whether
obedi-
ence
to
authority
or
sexual
impurity
are
morally
relevant
concepts,
there
is
much
greater
consensus
about
moral
issues
involving
harm
and
injustice.
For
example,
both
religious
and
nonreligious
individuals
take
a
predominant-
ly
deontological
stance
toward
torture
(Figure
1)
and
both
groups
find
acts
of
unjust
harm
(e.g.,
killing
an
innocent
for
no
good
reason)
to
be
objectively
wrong.
All
world
religions
defend
some
version
of
the
Golden
Rule,
a
doctrine
that
reflects
evolved
inclinations
toward
fairness
and
recipro-
city.
Recent
studies
suggest
that
individuals,
independent
of
religion,
exhibit
an
impulse
to
behave
cooperatively
and
that
they
manage
to
override
this
immediate
prosocial
impulse
only
on
further
reflection
[14].
This
universal
preference
toward
prosociality
is
apparent
even
in
infancy.
Thus,
although
theists
and
nontheists
may
be
divided
through
differences
in
sociality,
earthly
and
supernatural
reputational
concerns,
and
meta-ethics,
the
two
groups
are
united
in
what
could
be
considered
‘core’
intuitive
prefer-
ences
for
justice
and
compassion.
Although
the
two
groups
may
sometimes
disagree
about
which
groups
or
individuals
deserve
justice
or
their
compassion,
these
core
moral
intui-
tions
form
the
best
basis
for
mutual
understanding
and
intergroup
conciliation.
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Cognitive-load
approaches
to
detect
deception:
searching
for
cognitive
mechanisms
Iris
Blando
´n-Gitlin
1
,
Elise
Fenn
1,2
,
Jaume
Masip
3
,
and
Aspen
H.
Yoo
1
1
Department
of
Psychology,
California
State
University
Fullerton,
P.O.
Box
6846,
Fullerton,
CA
92831,
USA
2
Department
of
Psychology,
Claremont
Graduate
University,
150
East
10th
Street,
Claremont,
CA
91711,
USA
3
Department
of
Social
Psychology
and
Anthropology,
University
of
Salamanca,
Facultad
de
Psicologı
´a,
Avenida
de
la
Merced,
109-
131,
37005
Salamanca,
Spain
A
current
focus
in
deception
research
is
on
developing
cognitive-load
approaches
(CLAs)
to
detect
deception.
The
aim
is
to
improve
lie
detection
with
evidence-based
and
ecologically
valid
procedures.
Although
these
approaches
show
great
potential,
research
on
cognitive
processes
or
mechanisms
explaining
how
they
operate
is
lacking.
Potential
mechanisms
underlying
the
most
popular
techniques
advocated
for
field
application
are
highlighted.
Cognitive
scientists
are
encouraged
to
con-
duct
basic
research
that
qualifies
the
‘cognitive’
in
these
new
approaches.
Introduction
Decades
of
deception
research
have
shown
that
humans
are
not
much
better
than
chance
at
detecting
deception.
In
two
1364-6613/
ß
2014
Elsevier
Ltd.
All
rights
reserved.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2014.05.004
Corresponding
author:
Blando
´n-Gitlin,
I.
Science
&
Society Trends
in
Cognitive
Sciences
September
2014,
Vol.
18,
No.
9
441
  • Article
    Full-text available
    A common finding across many cultures has been that religious people behave more prosocially than less (or non-) religious people. Numerous priming studies have demonstrated that the activation of religious concepts via implicit and explicit cues (e.g., ‘God,’ ‘salvation,’ among many others) increases prosociality in religious people. However, the factors underlying such findings are less clear. In this review we discuss hypotheses (e.g., the supernatural punishment hypothesis) that explain the religion-prosociality link, and also how recent findings in the empirical literature converge to suggest that the divine rewards (e.g., heaven) and punishments (e.g., hell) promised by various religious traditions may play a significant role. In addition, we further discuss inconsistencies in the religion-prosociality literature, as well as existing and future psychological studies which could improve our understanding of whether, and how, concepts of divine rewards and punishments may influence prosociality.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Background Religion is a central aspect of many individuals’ lives around the world, and its influence on human behaviour has been extensively studied from many different perspectives. Methods The current study integrates a number of these perspectives into one adaptive temporal–causal network model describing the mental states involved, their mutual relations, and the adaptation of some of these relations over time due to learning. ResultsBy first developing a conceptual representation of a network model based on the literature, and then formalizing this model into a numerical representation, simulations can be done for almost any kind of religion and person, showing different behaviours for persons with different religious backgrounds and characters. The focus was mainly on the influence of religion on human empathy and dis-empathy, a topic very relevant today. Conclusions The developed model could be valuable for many uses, involving support for a better understanding, and even prediction, of the behaviour of religious individuals. It is illustrated for a number of different scenarios based on different characteristics of the persons and of the religion.
  • Article
    Previous research revealed that inducing an intuitive thinking style led people to adopt more conservative social and economic attitudes. No prior study, however, has shown a causal effect of analytic cognitive style (ACS) on political conservatism. It is also not clear whether these cognitive-style manipulations influence stable or contextualized (less stable) political attitudes differentially. The current research investigated the causal effect of ACS on both stable and contextualized political opinions. In Experiment 1, we briefly trained participants to think analytically (or not) and assessed their contextualized and stable political attitudes. Those in the analytic thinking group responded more positively to liberal (but not conservative) arguments on contextualized opinions. However, no significant change occurred in stable opinions. In Experiment 2, we replicated this basic finding with a larger sample. Thus, the results demonstrate that inducing ACS causally influences contextualized liberal attitudes, but not stable ones.
  • Article
    Morality typically includes prosociality but often also extends to impersonal deontology. Religion, theoretically and empirically, is concerned with both moral domains. What happens when the two domains are in conflict Do religious people prefer impersonal deontology at the detriment of prosociality? Or do their prosocial inclinations allow them to transgress conflicting moral principles, for instance through white lies? Participants (177 Belgian adults) made a choice in several hypothetical moral dilemmas and were afterwards evaluated on Haidt's moral foundations (care, fairness, authority, loyalty, and purity) and religiosity. When the conflict implied minor consequences for the target, religiosity predicted impersonal deontology at the detriment of prosociality, because of a high endorsement of purity. However, when the consequences were severe, religiosity was unrelated to impersonal deontology due to a suppressor effect of care. The findings indicate that prosocial dispositions shape religiosity into a 'compassionate moral rigorism', thus protecting it from excessive moralism.
  • Article
    Previous research suggests that the sexual double standard still exists today, and that women face greater social repercussions for engaging in casual sex than men. This study investigates the effects of religious priming on attitudes toward a hypothetic female target, who is portrayed as either having a single or multiple romantic partners in the past year. In addition, we examined how participants preexisting levels of religiosity, sexual conservatism, and moral concerns might further affect attitudes toward this target. Consistent with our original hypothesis, self reported levels of religiosity, religious fundamentalism and right-wing authoritarianism are associated with more conservative attitudes toward sexuality. Interestingly, this relationship did not influence how our hypothetical character was evaluated. The multiple-partner Amber was rated more negatively than her single-partner counterpart, regardless of participants preexisting levels of religiosity and sexual conservatism. What did appear to be driving this effect were participant’s gender and relative moral concerns, specifically females and those who reported more purity/sanctity concerns. A consistent main effect was found for Amber’s number of partners and for the gender of the participant. For some variables, gender of participant and Amber condition interacted, such that women tended to reward her more than men when she had a single partner. Understanding how people evaluate others based solely on their perceived sexual activity is important, and could shed light on some critical issues, including women’s interpersonal relations and assault investigations.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Moral conflict between Christians and atheists is becoming increasingly heated amidst the U.S. “culture wars”, yet research has been mostly silent regarding how these groups stereotype each other’s moral values and beliefs. We used Moral Foundations Theory to better understand the nature of such stereotypes. In Study 1, U.S. Christian and atheist participants completed measures of moral values from their own perspective as well as the perspectives of typical atheists and typical Christians. Whereas atheists believed their ingroup endorsed fairness/justice values more than Christians, Christians believed their ingroup endorsed all moral values more than atheists. Moreover, both groups held (often extremely) inaccurate stereotypes about the outgroup’s values. In Study 2, participants wrote explicitly about outgroup morality. Atheists typically described Christians more negatively than Christians described atheists, regardless of the moral foundation of concern. Also, Christians’ negative impressions drew primarily from the Authority foundation, and both groups drew heavily from the Care foundation in both their positive and negative depictions. Implications for addressing the growing conflict between Christians and atheists in the U.S. are discussed.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Religion and morality have been deeply interwoven throughout human history. Although much research has investigated the role of religiosity (e.g., belief in God, prayer, religious attendance) in shaping moral concerns, only recently has research in psychology begun to delve deeper into the meta-ethical beliefs theists hold about the spiritual foundations of morality. The present research builds on moral-philosophical discourse on Divine Command Theory and recent work by Piazza and Landy (2013), who developed the 20-item Morality Founded on Divine Authority (MFDA) scale to measure Divine Command beliefs. We sought primarily to reduce the MFDA scale to increase its pragmatic utility; Confirmatory Factor Analysis revealed an optimal 5-item scale. Across four studies, this scale yielded levels of construct, convergent, and incremental validity equivalent to those of the 20-item scale. Compared with several other measures of religiosity and conservative thinking, the short MFDA was the strongest predictor of anti-atheist prejudice among U.S. Christians and Indian Hindus (Studies 1a-1b) and largely explained religiosity’s relationship with attitudes toward science (Study 1a) and moral cognitive outcomes including deontological reasoning (Study 2a) and prohibitive morality (Study 2b). We conclude with discussion about the practical utility of this scale in ongoing research into religion and moral cognition.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Three studies demonstrated that the moral judgments of religious individuals and political conservatives are highly insensitive to consequentialist (i.e., outcome-based) considerations. In Study 1, both religiosity and political conservatism predicted a resistance toward consequentialist thinking concerning a range of transgressive acts, independent of other relevant dispositional factors (e.g., disgust sensitivity). Study 2 ruled out differences in welfare sensitivity as an explanation for these findings. In Study 3, religiosity and political conservatism predicted a commitment to judging “harmless” taboo violations morally impermissible, rather than discretionary, despite the lack of negative consequences rising from the act. Furthermore, non-consequentialist thinking style was shown to mediate the relationship religiosity/conservatism had with impermissibility judgments, while intuitive thinking style did not. These data provide further evidence for the influence of religious and political commitments in motivating divergent moral judgments, while highlighting a new dispositional factor, non-consequentialist thinking style, as a mediator of these effects.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Recent research has shown that religious individuals are much more resistant to utilitarian modes of thinking than their less religious counterparts, but the reason for this is not clear. We propose that a meta-ethical belief that morality is rooted in inviolable divine commands (i.e., endorsement of Divine Command Theory) may help explain this finding. We present a novel 20-item scale measuring a belief that morality is founded on divine authority. The scale shows good internal reliability and convergent and discriminant validity. Study 1 found that this scale fully mediated the relationship that various religiosity measures had with a deontological thinking style in our sample of American adults. It also accounted for the link between religiosity and social conservative values. Furthermore, the relationship between the scale and these outcome variables held after statistically controlling for variables related to actively open-minded thinking and the Big Five. Study 2 replicated the results using naturalistic moral dilemmas that placed deontological and utilitarian concerns in conflict, and showed that the results of Study 1 cannot be explained by differences in moral foundations (e.g., concern for authority more generally) or differences in the perceived function of rules. Quite the contrary, endorsement of the divine origins of morality fully mediated the relationship religiosity had with the so-called "binding" foundations (i.e., Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity). Our findings highlight the importance of meta-ethical beliefs for understanding individual differences in moral judgment.
  • This study provides exploratory evidence about how behavioral and neural responses to standard moral dilemmas are influenced by religious belief. Eleven Catholics and 13 Atheists (all female) judged 48 moral dilemmas. Differential neural activity between the two groups was found in precuneus and in prefrontal, frontal and temporal regions. Furthermore, a double dissociation showed that Catholics recruited different areas for deontological (precuneus; temporoparietal junction) and utilitarian moral judgments [dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC); temporal poles], whereas Atheists did not (superior parietal gyrus for both types of judgment). Finally, we tested how both groups responded to personal and impersonal moral dilemmas: Catholics showed enhanced activity in DLPFC and posterior cingulate cortex during utilitarian moral judgments to impersonal moral dilemmas and enhanced responses in anterior cingulate cortex and superior temporal sulcus during deontological moral judgments to personal moral dilemmas. Our results indicate that moral judgment can be influenced by an acquired set of norms and conventions transmitted through religious indoctrination and practice. Catholic individuals may hold enhanced awareness of the incommensurability between two unequivocal doctrines of the Catholic belief set, triggered explicitly in a moral dilemma: help and care in all circumstances—but thou shalt not kill.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Researchers in the psychology of religion have begun utilizing priming methods to investigate the effects of the salience of religious concepts. These tightly controlled laboratory studies have demonstrated that priming religion may increase intergroup bias in both religious and nonreligious persons. The present study examined this possibility in a religiously and culturally diverse population using ecologically valid methods. Participants were recruited as they passed by either a religious or nonreligious structure in Western Europe. Participants in the religious context self-reported more negative attitudes toward non-Christian groups, more conservative political attitudes, and more personal religiousness and spirituality regardless of their personal belief in God. Results are discussed in terms of intergroup bias and salience of religious norms and stereotypes across cultures.
  • Article
    Cooperation is central to human social behaviour. However, choosing to cooperate requires individuals to incur a personal cost to benefit others. Here we explore the cognitive basis of cooperative decision-making in humans using a dual-process framework. We ask whether people are predisposed towards selfishness, behaving cooperatively only through active self-control; or whether they are intuitively cooperative, with reflection and prospective reasoning favouring 'rational' self-interest. To investigate this issue, we perform ten studies using economic games. We find that across a range of experimental designs, subjects who reach their decisions more quickly are more cooperative. Furthermore, forcing subjects to decide quickly increases contributions, whereas instructing them to reflect and forcing them to decide slowly decreases contributions. Finally, an induction that primes subjects to trust their intuitions increases contributions compared with an induction that promotes greater reflection. To explain these results, we propose that cooperation is intuitive because cooperative heuristics are developed in daily life where cooperation is typically advantageous. We then validate predictions generated by this proposed mechanism. Our results provide convergent evidence that intuition supports cooperation in social dilemmas, and that reflection can undermine these cooperative impulses.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Numerous authors have suggested that religious belief has a positive association, possibly causal, with prosocial behavior. This article critiques evidence regarding this "religious prosociality" hypothesis from several areas of the literature. The extant literature on religious prosociality is reviewed including domains of charity, volunteering, morality, personality, and well-being. The experimental and quasi-experimental literature regarding controlled prosocial interactions (e.g., sharing and generosity) is reviewed and contrasted with results from naturalistic studies. Conceptual problems in the interpretation of this literature include separating the effects of stereotypes and ingroup biases from impression formation as well as controlling for self-report biases in the measurement of religious prosociality. Many effects attributed to religious processes can be explained in terms of general nonreligious psychological effects. Methodological problems that limit the interpretation of religious prosociality studies include the use of inappropriate comparison groups and the presence of criterion contamination in measures yielding misleading conclusions. Specifically, it is common practice to compare high levels of religiosity with "low religiosity" (e.g., the absence of denominational membership, lack of church attendance, or the low importance of religion), which conflates indifferent or uncommitted believers with the completely nonreligious. Finally, aspects of religious stereotype endorsement and ingroup bias can contribute to nonprosocial effects. These factors necessitate a revision of the religious prosociality hypothesis and suggest that future research should incorporate more stringent controls in order to reach less ambiguous conclusions.
  • Article
    This paper lays out an evolutionary theory for the cognitive foundations and cultural emergence of the extravagant displays (e.g., ritual mutilation, animal sacrifice and martyrdom) that have so tantalized social scientists, as well as more mundane actions that influence cultural learning and historical processes. In Part I, I use the logic of natural selection to build a theory for how and why seemingly costly displays influence the cognitive processes associated with cultural learning — why do "actions speak louder than words?" The core idea is that cultural learners can both avoid being manipulated by their models (those they are inclined to learn from) and more accurately assess their belief commitment by attending to displays or actions by the model that would seem costly to the model if he held beliefs different from those he expresses verbally. Part II examines the implications for cultural evolution of this learning bias in a simple evolutionary model. The model reveals the conditions under which this evolved bias can create stable sets of interlocking beliefs and practices, including quite costly practices. Part III explores how cultural evolution, driven by competition among groups or institutions stabilized at alternative sets of these interlocking belief-practice combinations, has led to the association of costly acts, often in the form of rituals, with deeper commitments to group beneficial ideologies, higher levels of cooperation within groups, and greater success in competition with other groups or institutions. I close by discussing the broader implications of these ideas for understanding various aspects of religious phenomena.
  • Article
    Atheists have long been distrusted, in part because they do not believe that a watchful, judging god monitors their behavior. However, in many parts of the world, secular institutions such as police, judges, and courts are also potent sources of social monitoring that encourage prosocial behavior. Reminders of such secular authority could therefore reduce believers' distrust of atheists. In our experiments, participants who watched a video about police effectiveness (Experiment 1) or were subtly primed with secular-authority concepts (Experiments 2-3) expressed less distrust of atheists than did participants who watched a control video or were not primed, respectively. We tested three distinct alternative explanations for these findings. Compared with control participants, participants primed with secular-authority concepts did not exhibit reduced general prejudice against out-groups (Experiment 1), prejudice reactions associated with functional threats that particular out-groups are perceived to pose (specifically, viewing gays with disgust; Experiment 2), or general distrust of out-groups (Experiment 3). These findings contribute to theory regarding both the psychological bases of prejudices and the psychological functions served by gods and governments.
  • Article
    In four studies carried out across different cultural, religious, and political contexts, we investigated the association between religion and popular support for suicide attacks. In two surveys of Palestinians and one cognitive priming experiment with Israeli settlers, prayer to God, an index of religious devotion, was unrelated to support for suicide attacks. Instead, attendance at religious services, thought to enhance coalitional commitment, positively predicted support for suicide attacks. In a survey of six religions in six nations, regular attendance at religious services positively predicted a combination of willing martyrdom and out-group hostility, but regular prayer did not. Implications for understanding the role of religion in suicide attacks are discussed.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Some have argued that belief in God is intuitive, a natural (by-)product of the human mind given its cognitive structure and social context. If this is true, the extent to which one believes in God may be influenced by one's more general tendency to rely on intuition versus reflection. Three studies support this hypothesis, linking intuitive cognitive style to belief in God. Study 1 showed that individual differences in cognitive style predict belief in God. Participants completed the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; Frederick, 2005), which employs math problems that, although easily solvable, have intuitively compelling incorrect answers. Participants who gave more intuitive answers on the CRT reported stronger belief in God. This effect was not mediated by education level, income, political orientation, or other demographic variables. Study 2 showed that the correlation between CRT scores and belief in God also holds when cognitive ability (IQ) and aspects of personality were controlled. Moreover, both studies demonstrated that intuitive CRT responses predicted the degree to which individuals reported having strengthened their belief in God since childhood, but not their familial religiosity during childhood, suggesting a causal relationship between cognitive style and change in belief over time. Study 3 revealed such a causal relationship over the short term: Experimentally inducing a mindset that favors intuition over reflection increases self-reported belief in God.