The existential security hypothesis predicts that in the absence of more successful secular institutions, people will be attracted to religion when they are materially insecure. Most assessments, however, employ data sampled at a state-level with a focus on world religions. Using individual-level data collected in societies of varied community sizes with diverse religious traditions including animism, shamanism, polytheism, and monotheism, we conducted a systematic cross-cultural test (N = 1820; 14 societies) of the relationship between material insecurity (indexed by food insecurity) and religious commitment (indexed by both beliefs and practices). Moreover, we examined the relationship between material security and individuals’ commitment to two types of deities (moralistic and local), thus providing the first simultaneous test of the existential security hypothesis across co-existing traditions. Our results indicate that while material insecurity is associated with greater commitment to moralistic deities, it predicts less commitment to local deity traditions.
Dominance is the aspect of social hierarchy that arises from agonistic interactions involving actual aggression or threats and intimidation. Accumulating evidence points to its importance in humans and its separation from prestige–an alternate mechanism in which status arises from competence or benefit-generation ability. In this review, we first provide an overview of the theoretical underpinnings of dominance as a concept, as well as some complications regarding the application of this concept to humans, which often shade into arguments that minimise its importance as a determinant of social influence in our species. We then review empirical evidence for its continued importance in human groups, including the effects of dominance rank on measurable outcomes such as social influence and reproductive fitness (independently of prestige), evidence for a specialized dominance psychology, and evidence for gender-specific effects. Finally, because human-specific factors such as norms and coalitions may place bounds on purely coercive status-attainment strategies, we end by considering key situations and contexts that increase the likelihood for dominance status to coexist alongside prestige status within the same individual, including how: 1) institutional power and authority tend to elicit dominance; 2) dominance-enhancing traits can at times generate benefits for others (prestige), and 3) certain dominance cues and ethology may lead to mis-attributions of prestige.
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 are concerned with punishing theft, murder, and deceit. This effect is stable even after holding constant the effects of beliefs about explicitly moralistic deities. 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.
Although a substantial literature in anthropology and comparative religion explores divination across diverse societies and back into history, little research has integrated the older ethnographic and historical work with recent insights on human learning, cultural transmission, and cognitive science. Here we present evidence showing that divination practices are often best viewed as an epistemic technology, and we for- mally model the scenarios under which individuals may overestimate the efficacy of divination that contribute to its cultural omnipresence and historical persistence. We found that strong prior belief, underreporting of negative evidence, and misinferring belief from behavior can all contribute to biased and inaccurate beliefs about the effectiveness of epistemic technologies. We finally suggest how scientific epistemol- ogy, as it emerged in Western societies over the past few centuries, has influenced the importance and cultural centrality of divination practices.
The Ethnographic Atlas (Murdock, 1967), an anthropological database, is widely used across the social sciences. The Atlas is a quantified and discretely categorized collection of information gleaned from ethnographies covering more than 1200 pre-industrial societies. While being popular in many fields, it has been subject to skepticism within cultural anthropology. We assess the Atlas’s validity by comparing it with representative data from descendants of the portrayed societies. We document positive associations between the historical measures collected by ethnographers and self-reported data from 790,000 individuals across 43 countries.