Joseph Watts

Joseph Watts
University of Otago · Religion Programme

PhD

About

25
Publications
19,534
Reads
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821
Citations
Education
January 2013 - July 2016
University of Auckland
Field of study
  • Psychology
February 2012 - October 2012
University of Auckland
Field of study
  • Psychology
February 2009 - October 2011
Victoria University of Wellington
Field of study
  • Psychology and Philosophy

Publications

Publications (25)
Article
Full-text available
Professional religious specialists centralised religious authority in early human societies and represented some of the earliest instances of formalised social leadership. These individuals played a central role in the emergence of organised religion and transitions to more stratified human societies. Evolutionary theories highlight a range of envi...
Article
Full-text available
Quantitative cross-cultural databases can help uncover structure and diversity across human populations. These databases have been constructed using a variety of methodologies and have been instrumental for building and testing theories in the social sciences. The processes and assumptions behind the construction of cross-cultural databases are not...
Preprint
A central goal of linguistics is to understand how words evolve over time, and how geographic, demographic, and cognitive variables have influenced this process of evolution. Whereas past research has focused on how macro-level factors like frequency of word usage and borrowing impact lexical evolution, we draw on insights from cognitive and affect...
Preprint
Supernatural beliefs are common in every human society, and people frequently invoke the supernatural to explain natural (e.g., storms, disease outbreaks) and social (e.g., murder, warfare) events. However, evolutionary and psychological theories of religion raise competing hypotheses about whether supernatural explanations should more commonly foc...
Article
Full-text available
Modern phylogenetic methods are increasingly being used to address questions about macro-level patterns in cultural evolution. These methods can illuminate the unobservable histories of cultural traits and identify the evolutionary drivers of trait change over time, but their application is not without pitfalls. Here, we outline the current scope o...
Article
Full-text available
Humans in most cultures around the world play rule-based games, yet research on the content and structure of these games is limited. Previous studies investigating rule-based games across cultures have either focused on a small handful of cultures, thus limiting the generalizability of findings, or used cross-cultural databases from which the raw d...
Preprint
Full-text available
Modern phylogenetic methods are increasingly being used to address questions about macro-level patterns in cultural evolution. These methods can illuminate the unobservable histories of cultural traits and identify the evolutionary drivers of trait-change over time, but their application is not without pitfalls. Here we outline the current scope of...
Article
Full-text available
Humans have been using language for millennia, but we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what natural language can tell us about the mind. Here we propose that language offers a unique window into psychology. After briefly summarizing the legacy of language analyses in psychological science, we show how methodological advances have made...
Article
Full-text available
Theories differ over whether religious and secular worldviews are in competition or represent overlapping and compatible frameworks. Here we test these theories by examining homogeneity and overlap in Christian and non-religious people's explanations of the world. Christian and non-religious participants produced free text explanations of 54 natura...
Preprint
Full-text available
Humans have been using language for thousands of years, but psychologists seldom consider what natural language can tell us about the mind. Here we propose that language offers a unique window into human cognition. After briefly summarizing the legacy of language analyses in psychological science, we show how methodological advances have made these...
Preprint
Full-text available
Humans have been using language for thousands of years, but psychologists seldom consider what natural language can tell us about the mind. Here we propose that language offers a unique window into human cognition. After briefly summarizing the legacy of language analyses in psychological science, we show how methodological advances have made these...
Article
Full-text available
Many aspects of religious rituals suggest they provide adaptive benefits. Studies across societies consistently find that investments in ritual behaviour return high levels of cooperation. Another line of research finds that alloparental support to mothers increases maternal fertility and improves child outcomes. Although plausible, whether religio...
Preprint
Full-text available
The ‘brain-opioid theory of social attachment’ (BOTSA) has been proposed as providing the neurobiological underpinnings of social bonding. Endorphins are activated in the brain by a variety of social activities, including social touch, laughter, singing, dancing and feasting. Several of these seem to be involved in the processes of bonding whole co...
Article
Full-text available
The diverse way that languages convey emotion It is unclear whether emotion terms have the same meaning across cultures. Jackson et al. examined nearly 2500 languages to determine the degree of similarity in linguistic networks of 24 emotion terms across cultures (see the Perspective by Majid). There were low levels of similarity, and thus high var...
Article
Full-text available
Over the past 2,000 years, Christianity has grown from a tiny Judaic sect to the world’s largest religious family¹. Historians and social scientists have long debated whether Christianity spread through a top-down process driven by political leaders or a bottom-up process that empowered social underclasses2–6. The Christianization of Austronesian p...
Article
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One of the defining trends of the Holocene has been the emergence of complex societies. Two essential features of complex societies are intensive resource use and sociopolitical hierarchy. Although it is widely agreed that these two phenomena are associated cross-culturally and have both contributed to the rise of complex societies, the causality u...
Article
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Evolutionary thinking can be applied to both cultural microevolution and macroevolution. However, much of the current literature focuses on cultural microevolution. In this article, we argue that the growing availability of large cross-cultural datasets facilitates the use of computational methods derived from evolutionary biology to answer broad-s...
Article
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Vivid coloration, pungent odors, strident alarms, and crippling stings have co-evolved in many lineages as mechanisms that conspicuously identify menacing creatures. Biologists call this mode of communication aposematic signaling, from the Greek apo “away” and sema “sign.” Despite the prevalence of aposematic signaling across a broad range of biolo...
Article
Full-text available
Evidence for human sacrifice is found throughout the archaeological record of early civilizations, the ethnographic records of indigenous world cultures, and the texts of the most prolific contemporary religions. According to the social control hypothesis, human sacrifice legitimizes political authority and social class systems, functioning to stab...
Article
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We welcome Norenzayan et al.’s claim that the prosocial effects of beliefs in supernatural agents extend beyond Big Gods. To date, however, supporting evidence has focused on the Abrahamic Big God, making generalisations difficult. We discuss a recent study that highlights the need for clarity about the causal path by which supernatural beliefs aff...
Article
Full-text available
Scholars have debated naturalistic theories of religion for thousands of years, but only recently have scientists begun to test predictions empirically. Existing databases contain few variables on religion, and are subject to Galton's Problem because they do not sufficiently account for the non-independence of cultures or systematically differentia...
Article
Full-text available
Supernatural belief presents an explanatory challenge to evolutionary theorists-it is both costly and prevalent. One influential functional explanation claims that the imagined threat of supernatural punishment can suppress selfishness and enhance cooperation. Specifically, morally concerned supreme deities or 'moralizing high gods' have been argue...
Article
Full-text available
How can human beings make significant but cognitively taxing inferences about others' beliefs yet also effectively "mind read" in fast-moving social situations? We tested the idea that humans have two mind-reading systems: a flexible system and an efficient system that can make fast calculations because it has natural blind spots to the kinds of in...

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Projects

Project (1)
Project
Why do we play some games, but not others? We are interested in studying the relationship between games and cultural values, while controlling for Galton's problem using phylogenetic comparative methods.