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Experiments in the field as a bridge between psychological science and the humanities

27-323 | Thursday, 3:30 p.m. | 126
Panel Chair: Radek Kundt

Anthropologists have a tradition of documenting the practices of individuals immersed in a particular religious environment. Clinical and social psychologists also routinely study populations with long-term exposure to particular life circumstances, comparing them to the general population on some measure. In social psychology and other sub-fields, cognitive psychologists emphasise the value of objective measures regardless of whether the investigated groups were formed by life circumstances or experimental manipulation. This panel will make presentations and invite discussion on the theoretical value of collecting objective measures in the field (usually, from real existing religious communities). Rather than taking "subjects" out of context and moving them into sterilised laboratory settings, field experiments attempt to take the laboratory into context by moving it into the field. We argue that the integration of experimental techniques and participant observation may offer complementary insights that neither approach alone can.

Dimitris Xygalatas

Experimental anthropology: bringing the lab into the field

The integration of experimental techniques and participant observation may offer complementary insights that neither approach alone can achieve. Rather than taking "subjects" out of context and moving them into sterilised laboratory settings where they become "objects" of experimentation, an integrative approach attempts to take the laboratory into context by moving it into the field. Through this combination of anthropological and experimental techniques, experiments become for anthropologists a new form of obtaining data as well as a new way of being in the field. At the same time, they may create new problems and raise new important questions, allowing us to problematize some of the standard methods used to study human social behaviour and reflect on their merits, limitations, and ways to improve them. Based on a series of case studies, I will discuss the advantages, limitations, and problems of this "experimental anthropology".

Jakub Cigán

Experimental study of prosocial behavior in cross-religious settings on Mauritius

The benefits and challenges of combining anthropological and experimental techniques are discussed in detail in this presentation of an experimental research project conducted in the Mauritius in 2013. An economic game paradigm was used to explore prosocial behavior among religious people in various religious and non-religious environments. Environments can constitute implicit contextual cues guiding behavior. While there is evidence supporting the view that in-group religious settings induce parochial prosocial behavior among co-religionists, prosocial behavior in other´s people’s religious settings has remained largely unexplored. In this study on the topic, we surprisingly found that participants behaved more prosocially in other’s people’s religious settings. It is likely that the results reflect the relationship between Catholics and Hindus in the Mauritius. The results, therefore, connect prosocial behavior in religious settings to broader sociocultural conditions.

Jan Krátký

Religious statues affect prosocial behavior

Decision-making in environments with agency cues is of interest to religious studies scholars because of the potential role of agency cues in inspiring a sense of awe and subsequent social coordination. In a series of experiments disguised as a promotional initiative by a well-known company, we compared the effects of agentic and non-agentic cues on prosocial behaviour. More specifically, visitors to a university library were invited to make private donations to a cause in the presence of either an intentional agentic cue (statue of human face), a non-human intentional agentic cue (statue of an animal face), or a non-agentic cue (a plant). Results suggest that, while intentional agency cues might enhance prosociality, investigations are needed for potential parallel effects of crowds and of cue typicality in the chosen setting.