Zum Inhalt springen

The Evolution of Religion and Morality Project

Panel Chair: Benjamin Purzycki | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m.

Evidence continues to mount to suggest that religion contributes to the persistence and evolution of cooperation and coordination. The international Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC) based at the Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture at the University of British Columbia executed a cross-cultural study in eight diverse societies around the world. Using a synthetic regime of ethnographic methods and an experimental economic game to detect cheating behavior, we tested whether or not certain kinds of gods a) curb antisocial behavior towards other people, and b) whether or not this effect extends to people beyond one’s immediate community. This panel consists of some of the highlights from specific sites, and presents overall results from our eight field sites.

Benjamin Purzycki

High Gods and the Expansion of Sociality: The Random Allocation Game in Eight Societies

Understanding the expansion of human sociality and cooperation beyond kin and allies remains a pressing problem. Religion contributes to this problem in a variety of ways including ritual, and commitment to omniscient, punitive gods. Building on this, recent hypotheses predict that this effect fosters the expansion of sociality beyond the local community and thus contributes to the development of highly complex social organizations. Using an experimental economic game designed to detect cheating, we tested whether or not individual models of moralistic, punishing, and omniscient gods (High Gods) curb cheating behavior better than Local gods. Among a sample of participants from eight diverse societies—Fijians, the Hadza of Tanzania, Indo-Fijians, Mauritians, Tyvans of southern Siberia, Inland and Coastal Vanuatuans, and Brazilians from Pesqueiro—we present cross-cultural evidence that the closer individuals approximate their gods to High Gods, the less likely people are to cheat in favor of themselves and their community.

Rita McNamara

Local Favoritism Modulated by Big and Little Gods in Fiji

Conducted among villagers in Yasawa, Fiji, this study is an experimental replication of the correlational results of McNamara, Norenzayan, and Henrich (2014). In Yasawa, supernatural punishment beliefs about the Christian God (“Bible God”) vs. deified ancestors (Kalou-vu) promote different expectations about distant, anonymous strangers. We compare RAG offers to strangers across primes evoking Christian, traditional, or neutral beliefs. Though the Christian prime did not produce offers that were significantly different from neutral, the traditional prime did promote significantly higher offers to local recipients over distant, anonymous recipients. This effect seemed to be particularly strong for men. These results help corroborate the effect of local ancestor spirits promoting local in-group favoritism indicated in previous studies. Further, these results suggest that beliefs about different kinds of deities might promote prosociality towards some recipients at the expense of others.

Quentin Atkinson

Religiosity and expanding the cooperative sphere in Kastom and Christian villages on Tanna, Vanuatu

The island of Tanna is a kaleidoscope of religious variation. Waves of Christian missionary influence interact with traditional Kastom beliefs, as well as more recent ‘cargo cults’ (themselves a mix of Kastom, Christian and nationalist ideas). This affords a unique opportunity to compare the psychological effects of a recently expanded world religion (Christianity), and indigenous religious beliefs and practices in a common cultural setting. Here, we compare results from survey data together with a Random Allocation Game and Dictator Game conducted across two sites on Tanna - a coastal Christian village and a cluster of three inland, Kastom hamlets. We investigate whether religious beliefs and practices at each location predict prosocial game behaviour and the extent to which participants’ prosociality extends to those who share or do not share the same religion. We discuss the implications of our findings for theories of the cultural evolution of religion.

Aiyana Willard

Religion’s Effect on In-group and Out-group Preferences in Fiji

Fiji’s ethnic and religious diversity makes it possible to test religious prosocial behavior within and between the three major religious groups (Hindus, Muslims, and Christians) and two major ethnic groups (Fijians and Indo-Fijians). This paper presents two versions of the random allocation game conducted in Lovu, Fiji. The first game used a prime condition (a shrine), but only female Hindu participants cheated less in the prime condition. However, in the second game without a prime, the religious and ethnic group differences of players had a far greater effect. In this game, Christian Fijian and Christian Indo-Fijians divided money between religious and ethnic in-groups and out-groups. I found that Indo-Fijian Christians readily cheated against same-ethnic Hindus and Muslims, but not other-ethnic Christians. This provides evidence that religious in-group preferences are stronger then ethnic in-group preferences.


B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


A  B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  S  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)