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.

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Available from: Azim Shariff, Aug 14, 2015
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    • "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. "
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