The Moralization Bias of Gods ' Minds: A Cross-Cultural Test


Purzycki, Benjamin Grant, Aiyana K. Willard, Eva Kundtová Klocová, Coren Apicella, Quentin Atkinson, Alexander Bolyanatz, Emma Cohen, et al. “The Moralization Bias of Gods ' Minds: A Cross-Cultural Test.” Religion, Brain & Behavior (Forthcoming).
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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.

Last updated on 07/20/2021