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CSR Session 2: Belief and non-belief

Panel Chair: Dimitris Xygalatas | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Benjamin Purzycki, Coren Apicella, Quentin Atkinson, Emma Cohen, Joseph Henrich, Rita Anne McNamara, Ara Norenzayan, Aiyana K. Willard, & Dimitris Xygalatas

Representational Models of Gods’ Minds in Eight Diverse Societies: An Ecological Account

Some attempts to explain the ubiquity of supernatural agent concepts suggest that because they are associated with “socially strategic knowledge”, they are especially salient and memorable. Socially strategic information is any information that engages the cognitive systems that modulate social interaction. From a cultural ecological framework, a compatible but more nuanced view would predict that as religion minimizes the deleterious effects of locally specific problems of coordination and cooperation, and gods function as difficult-to-verify sources of motivation and reminders to act in accordance with these problems’ solutions, what the gods care about should correspond to such problems. Up until now, there has been a dearth of reliable and comparable cross-cultural data attending to representational models of gods’ concerns and the degree to which they overlap with local cultural models of the socially strategic. With data collected on fifteen different gods from eight diverse societies, we present evidence that what the gods care about are important indices to understanding the function and evolution of religious systems and highlight the impact that local ecological problems have on religious cognition.

Hillary Lenfesty & Thomas Fikes

Stereotypes and Surveillance: How perceptions of coldness/warmth and supernatural monitoring predict distrust of atheists

Atheists are widely distrusted, and recent work has proposed that this is because their unbelief in supernatural punishment casts them as potential defectors in cooperative exchanges (Gervais, Shariff, & Norenzayan, 2011). An alternative hypothesis is that because people are perceived to be varying degrees of “warm” (Fiske, Cuddy, & Glick, 2007), atheists are generally perceived as “cold” social partners. We propose that atheists’ lack of belief in a supernatural mind may serve as an indicator of their (presumed deficient) abilities to reason about the minds of conspecifics. Individuals who lack fundamental social-cognitive capacities such as mentalizing abilities might carry low social utility or impose a threat to group members (Lenfesty & Schloss, 2014); thus atheist distrust. The present study attempts to discern between these two hypotheses by using a stereotype IAT to measure implicit biases of both religious (Christian) and non-religious participants towards atheists as “cold” social partners. We use an IAT modification by Fikes (2014) to (1) disaggregate D scores between two possible biases (e.g., a bias towards atheists as “cold” versus a bias for believers as “warm”), and (2) individualize the IAT by having participants generate their own stimulus words for target categories, allowing for qualitative analyses of explicit beliefs as well as quantitative analyses of implicit beliefs. Mediation analyses will test various hypothesized relationships between participants’ beliefs in supernatural agency, supernatural punishment, IAT scores and behaviors in the Trust Game played with atheist or religious “partners” (computer dummies) with pre-programmed selfish or generous behaviors.


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