The moralization bias of gods’ minds : a cross-cultural test

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Authors

PURZYCKI Benjamin WILLARD Aiyana KUNDTOVÁ KLOCOVÁ Eva APICELLA Coren ATKINSON Quentin BOLYANATZ Alex COHEN Emma HANDLEY Carla HENRICH Joseph LANG Martin LESOGOROL Carolyn MATHEW Sarah MCNAMARA Rita MOYA Cristina NORENZAYAN Ara PLACEK Caitlyn D SOLER Monserrat VARDY Thomas WEIGEL Jonathan XYGALATAS Dimitris ROSS Cody

Year of publication 2022
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Religion, Brain & Behavior
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Citation
Web https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2153599X.2021.2006291
Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2153599X.2021.2006291
Keywords Supernatural punishment; morality; gods’ minds; cognitive science of religion
Description There are compelling reasons to expect that cognitively representing any active, powerful deity motivates cooperative behavior. One mechanism underlying this association could be a cognitive bias toward generally attributing moral concern to anthropomorphic agents. If humans cognitively represent the minds of deities and humans in the same way, and if human agents are generally conceptualized as having moral concern, a broad tendency to attribute moral concern—a “moralization bias”—to supernatural deities follows. Using data from 2,228 individuals in 15 different field sites, we test for the existence of such a bias. We find that people are indeed more likely than chance to indicate that local deities care about punishing theft, murder, and deceit. This effect is stable even after holding beliefs about explicitly moralistic deities constant. Additionally, we take a close look at data collected among Hadza foragers and find two of their deities to be morally interested. There is no evidence to suggest that this effect is due to direct missionary contact. We posit that the “moralization bias of gods’ minds” is part of a widespread but variable religious phenotype, and a candidate mechanism that contributes to the well-recognized association between religion and cooperation.
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