Tag Archives: Psychology

Young people’s views of religion

The following is a useful graphic display of the difference between US Christian and non-Christian views of Christianity. Barna have a similar chart¬†relating to what people perceive as “extreme” in religion, and nearly three times as many young Brits believe religion to be a nett source of evil as believe it to be a nett source of good.¬†

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Conservatives panic more easily

As the Atlantic noted, conservative are easier to panic. Unfortunately, this also means that they can be scared into imagining that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy rather than being scared into actually doing something about climate change.

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Agnostic verbal skills FTW

On a verbal intelligence (wordsum) test (out of 10):
* people who are certain God exists (5.83)
* people who believe in God part of the time (5.84)
* atheists (6.13)
* people who harbour doubts but still believe (6.29)
* deists (6.82)
* agnostics (7.05)
(W S Bainbridge, ‘Atheism’, Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, pp.321-2)

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Why people leave religion

Some very useful demographic data, including self-expressed reasons for leaving religion.

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TMS reducing religious belief and patriotism

Here’s an interesting experiment: transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) reducing positive religious beliefs (e.g., a benevolent deity), negative religious beliefs (e.g., a devil), and the offensiveness of criticism of the homeland, while slightly reducing the agreeability of praise of the homeland. (‘Neuromodulation of group prejudice and religious belief’, Colin Holbrook et al. – ignore their percentages because they’re rubbish: the reductions are actually 18%, 14%, 14%, and 6% respectively, and the overall reduction of nationalist response is 9%).

The researchers describe it all as ideological threat management, but they fail to account for the difference between pre-existing religious views and instantaneous nationalistic responses, as well as for the simple fact that the views suppressed by the TMS are largely hopeful and ameliorative.

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Religious Prompting and Generosity

A little while ago, a study was published which showed a negative correlation between childhood religiosity and generosity, i.e. that kids brought up religious tended to be less generous. I have just been reading another one (‘God Is Watching You: Priming God Concepts Increases Prosocial Behavior in an Anonymous Economic Game’, Azim F. Shariff and Ara Norenzayan) which performed a related test with adults: some were exposed to the “priming” terms “spirit”, “divine”, “God”, “sacred”, and “prophet” in what was made to look like a grammar exercise; all were then asked to play the “dictator game”, a generosity test in which the subject decides how to divide $10 between themselves and an anonymous recipient. The results were very interesting:

Unprimed control group:
average giving – $1.84
proportion giving $0 – 36%
proportion giving $5 – 12%
proportion giving more than $5 – 0%

Primed group
average giving – $4.22
proportion giving $0 – 16%
proportion giving $5 – 52%
proportion giving more than $5 – 12%

Most interestingly, the priming not only worked on non-believers, but actually worked better: for the believers, the difference made by priming was $1.88; for non-believers, it was $2.95, making the primed non-believers $0.1 more generous than the primed believers, whereas the unprimed non-believers were $0.97 less generous than unprimed believers.

Their next study involved a third group primed with the terms “civic”, “jury”, “court”, “police”, and “contract”. The control group gave an average of $2.56, the “civic language” group an average of $4.44, and the “religious language” group an average of $4.56. For this study, they note that believers were slightly more affected by the religious priming than non-believers were.

In another study by the same people (‘Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior’), it was found that subjects who described their own or their society’s views of God as being “punishing”, “vengeful”, “harsh”, “fearsome”, “angry”, “jealous”, or “terrifying” were less likely to have cheated on a mock “test” administered *before* the discussion of images of God. The researchers noted that there was an insignificantly slight correlation between actual belief in this “mean God”: the effect still obtained when the person was describing their society’s God that way. They also noted that there was no correlation between belief/non-belief and likelihood of cheating.

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Worldwide Belief Figures

Worldwide, 62% of people self-identify as “religious” (25% “not religious” + 9% “atheist”), 74% believe in the soul (17% disbelieve), 71% in G-d (13% disbelieve), 56% in heaven (27% disbelieve), 54% in an afterlife (27% disbelieve), and 49% in hell (34% disbelieve).

The interesting ones there are around the idea of the soul: more people believe in it than believe in G-d, and more people *disbelieve* in it than disbelieve in G-d. As many people disbelieve in the afterlife in general as disbelieve in heaven, but slightly more people believe in heaven than belief in the afterlife in general, a feature most probably explained by simple hope. The apparent oddity of almost twice as many people disbelieving in an afterlife as disbelieve in the soul seems to result from the eurocentric bias of the question: India shows a very high belief in the soul (82%) but a low belief in life after death (42%) because the Hindu atman proceeds to life after life.

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