Article

Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates

Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.53). 06/2012; 7(6):e39048. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039048
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Though religion has been shown to have generally positive effects on normative 'prosocial' behavior, recent laboratory research suggests that these effects may be driven primarily by supernatural punishment. Supernatural benevolence, on the other hand, may actually be associated with less prosocial behavior. Here, we investigate these effects at the societal level, showing that the proportion of people who believe in hell negatively predicts national crime rates whereas belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates. These effects remain after accounting for a host of covariates, and ultimately prove stronger predictors of national crime rates than economic variables such as GDP and income inequality. Expanding on laboratory research on religious prosociality, this is the first study to tie religious beliefs to large-scale cross-national trends in pro- and anti-social behavior.

Download full-text

Full-text

Available from: Azim Shariff, Aug 14, 2015
0 Followers
 · 
110 Views
  • Source
    • "Recent studies suggest that mean gods, but not nice gods, are effective at controlling antisocial impulses. Namely, DeBono et al. (2013) found that primes of religious forgiveness caused increased cheating in a laboratory task; Shariff and Rhemtulla (2012) found that belief in heaven robustly predicted higher crime rates cross-nationally; and Shariff and Norenzayan (2011) reported that belief in God as a more punishing figure predicted lower rates of cheating in the laboratory. While loving gods may not be effective at improving behavior, they might be very good at making us happy. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In religions where God is portrayed as both loving and wrathful, religious beliefs may be a source of fear as well as comfort. Here, we consider if God’s love may be more effective, relative to God’s wrath, for soothing distress, but less effective for helping control behavior. Specifically, we assess whether contemplating God’s love reduces our ability to detect and emotionally react to conflict between one’s behavior and overarching religious standards. We do so within a neurophysiological framework, by observing the effects of exposure to concepts of God’s love vs punishment on the error-related negativity (ERN)—a neural signal originating in the anterior cingulate cortex that is associated with performance monitoring and affective responses to errors. Participants included 123 students at Brigham Young University, who completed a Go/No-Go task where they made ‘religious’ errors (i.e. ostensibly exhibited pro-alcohol tendencies). Reflecting on God’s love caused dampened ERNs and worse performance on the Go/No-Go task. Thinking about God’s punishment did not affect performance or ERNs. Results suggest that one possible reason religiosity is generally linked to positive well-being may be because of a decreased affective response to errors that occurs when God’s love is prominent in the minds of believers.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 07/2014; 10(3). DOI:10.1093/scan/nsu096 · 5.88 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "Furthermore, for many religious people, divine authority is not to be questioned, either out of respect for God's supreme wisdom or for fear of inciting His wrath (e.g., Genesis 22:5-8; Isaiah 55:8-9; Job 34:12; Qur'an 6:151; Romans 1:18; see also Aquinas, ca. 1273/1947; Boyer, 2001; Johnson & Bering, 2006; Shariff & Rhemtulla, 2012). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Recent research has shown that religious individuals are much more resistant to utilitarian modes of thinking than their less religious counterparts, but the reason for this is not clear. We propose that a meta-ethical belief that morality is rooted in inviolable divine commands (i.e., endorsement of Divine Command Theory) may help explain this finding. We present a novel 20-item scale measuring a belief that morality is founded on divine authority. The scale shows good internal reliability and convergent and discriminant validity. Study 1 found that this scale fully mediated the relationship that various religiosity measures had with a deontological thinking style in our sample of American adults. It also accounted for the link between religiosity and social conservative values. Furthermore, the relationship between the scale and these outcome variables held after statistically controlling for variables related to actively open-minded thinking and the Big Five. Study 2 replicated the results using naturalistic moral dilemmas that placed deontological and utilitarian concerns in conflict, and showed that the results of Study 1 cannot be explained by differences in moral foundations (e.g., concern for authority more generally) or differences in the perceived function of rules. Quite the contrary, endorsement of the divine origins of morality fully mediated the relationship religiosity had with the so-called "binding" foundations (i.e., Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity). Our findings highlight the importance of meta-ethical beliefs for understanding individual differences in moral judgment.
    Judgment and decision making 11/2013; 8(6):639-661. · 2.62 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Sociologists, political scientists, and economists all suggest that culture plays a pivotal role in the development of large-scale cooperation. In this study, I used generalized trust as a measure of culture to explore if and how culture impacts intentional homicide, my operationalization of cooperation. I compiled multiple cross-national data sets and used pooled time-series linear regression, single-equation instrumental-variables linear regression, and fixed- and random-effects estimation techniques on an unbalanced panel of 118 countries and 232 observations spread over a 15-year time period. Results suggest that culture and large-scale cooperation form a tenuous relationship, while economic factors such as development, inequality, and geopolitics appear to drive large-scale cooperation.
    PLoS ONE 03/2013; 8(3):e59511. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0059511 · 3.53 Impact Factor
Show more