Ara Norenzayan's research while affiliated with University of British Columbia - Vancouver and other places

Publications (131)

Article
Full-text available
The relation between religiosity and well-being is one of the most researched topics in the psychology of religion, yet the directionality and robustness of the effect remains debated. Here, we adopted a many-analysts approach to assess the robustness of this relation based on a new cross-cultural dataset (N = 10, 535 participants from 24 countries...
Preprint
Full-text available
How do beliefs about gods vary across populations, and what accounts for this variation? We argue that appeals to gods generally reflect prominent features of local social ecologies. We first draw from a synthesis of theoretical, experimental, and ethnographic evidence to delineate a set of predictive criteria for the kinds of contexts with which r...
Article
Full-text available
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 size...
Article
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...
Article
Full-text available
This special issue marks the formal end to the Evolution of Religion and Morality project and highlights the overall findings with particular attention to our second wave of data collection. In this concluding article, we first briefly detail how the project came about and how it developed. We then catalogue our contributions, summarizing the empir...
Article
Scholars of religion have long sought to explain the persistent finding that women tend to report greater religiosity than men. However, the size of this “gender gap” may depend on the measure of religiosity employed, the religious tradition being sampled, and socio-demographic factors. Here, we conduct a systematic cross-cultural investigation int...
Article
Significance Do people who affiliate with the same religious tradition share cultural traits even if they live in different countries? We found unique patterns of cultural traits across religious groups and found that members of world religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism) show cultural similarity among coreligionists livi...
Article
Full-text available
The replicability and importance of the correlation between cognitive style and religious belief have been debated. Moreover, the literature has not examined distinct psychological accounts of this relationship. We tested the replicability of the correlation (N = 5284; students and broader samples of Canadians, Americans, and Indians); while testin...
Article
Supernatural beliefs are ubiquitous around the world, and mounting evidence indicates that these beliefs partly rely on intuitive, cross‐culturally recurrent cognitive processes. Specifically, past research has focused on humans' intuitive tendency to perceive minds as part of the cognitive foundations of belief in a personified God—an agentic, mor...
Article
Full-text available
Three studies (total N = 1486) investigated how inferences about a person’s current moral character guide forecasts about that person’s future moral character and future misfortunes, and tested several plausible moderating variables. Inferences about current moral character related (very strongly) to forecasts about future moral character and also...
Preprint
Cultural evolutionary theories suggest that world religions have contributed to the expansion of human cooperation, in part by consolidating beliefs, values, and practices within a culturally integrated super-ethnic identity. To test this hypothesis, we measured cultural distance between religious groups within and between countries, using the Cult...
Preprint
Full-text available
There are compelling reasons to expect that representing any active, powerful god or spirit may contribute to cooperation. One possible mechanism underlying this effect is a system that infers that spiritual agents are morally concerned. If individuals cognitive represent deities as agents, and if agents are generally conceptualized as having moral...
Article
What explains the ubiquity and diversity of religions around the world? Widespread cognitive tendencies, including mentalizing and intuitive thinking, offer part of the explanation for recurrent features of religion, and individual differences in religious commitments. However, vast diversity in religious beliefs points to the importance of the cul...
Preprint
Supernatural beliefs are ubiquitous around the world, and mounting evidence indicates that these beliefs partly rely on intuitive, cross-culturally recurrent cognitive processes. Specifically, past research has focused on humans’ intuitive tendency to perceive minds as part of the cognitive foundations of belief in a personified God — an agentic, m...
Preprint
Cultural evolutionary theories have proposed that prosocial religious traditions can facilitate societal complexity and large-scale cooperation among strangers, in part, through the culturally transmitted commitment to morally concerned supernatural entities. Although a growing number of studies have documented an association between reminders of r...
Preprint
Three studies (total N = 1486) investigated how inferences about a person’s current moral character guide forecasts about that person’s future moral character and future misfortunes, and tested several plausible moderating variables. Inferences about current moral character related (very strongly) to forecasts about future moral character and also...
Preprint
A growing literature has documented a negative association between analytical thinking style and belief in God. However, the replicability, magnitude, and theoretical importance of this correlation has recently been debated. Moreover, the existing literature has not examined distinct psychological accounts of this relationship. In Study 1, we (1) t...
Preprint
Full-text available
Whitehouse, et al.’s creation of the Seshat open archaeo-historical databank is laudable. However, the authors’ analysis methods, treatment of missing data, and source quality undermine the paper’s key conclusion that moralizing deities appear only after rapid increases in social complexity. First, their report fails to address the inherent ‘forwar...
Preprint
Full-text available
Whitehouse, et al.’s creation of the Seshat open archaeo-historical databank is laudable. However, the authors’ analysis methods, treatment of missing data, and source quality undermine the paper’s key conclusion that moralizing deities appear only after rapid increases in social complexity. First, their report fails to address the inherent ‘forwar...
Article
Full-text available
We examined cognitive biases that underlie individual differences in supernatural beliefs in nationally representative samples from the Czech Republic and Slovakia (total N = 2,022). These countries were chosen because of their differing levels of religious belief despite their cultural similarity. Replicating a previous study with North American s...
Article
Full-text available
The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant co-religionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to...
Article
Full-text available
The emergence of large-scale cooperation during the Holocene remains a central problem in the evolutionary literature. One hypothesis points to culturally evolved beliefs in punishing, interventionist gods that facilitate the extension of cooperative behaviour toward geographically distant co-religionists. Furthermore, another hypothesis points to...
Article
Full-text available
Four experiments (total N = 3591) examined how thinking about Karma and God increases adherence to social norms that prescribe fairness in anonymous dictator games. We found that (1) thinking about Karma decreased selfishness among karmic believers across religious affiliations, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and non-religious Americans;...
Chapter
Karma is believed to be a source of supernatural justice through which actions lead to morally congruent outcomes, within and across lifetimes. It is a central tenet of many world religions and appears in the social evaluations expressed by religious and non-religious individuals across diverse cultural contexts. Despite its prevalence, research di...
Article
Karmic beliefs, centered on the expectation of ethical causation within and across lifetimes, appear in major world religions as well as spiritual movements around the world, yet they remain an underexplored topic in psychology. In three studies, we assessed the psychological predictors of Karmic beliefs among participants from culturally and relig...
Article
Mental state reasoning has been theorized as a core feature of how we navigate our social worlds, and as especially vital to moral reasoning. Judgments of moral wrong-doing and punish-worthiness often hinge upon evaluations of the perpetrator's mental states. In two studies, we examine how differences in cultural conceptions about how one should th...
Preprint
Full-text available
A previous study explored the cognitive biases that underlie individual differences in supernatural beliefs using path models in samples of Canadian and Americans (Willard and Norenzayan, 2013). We replicated and extended these path models in new nationally representative samples from the Czech Republic and Slovakia (total N = 2022). As in the orig...
Preprint
In a novel supernatural framing paradigm, three repeated-measures experiments (N = 2347) examined whether thinking about Karma and God increases generosity in anonymous dictator games. We found that (1) thinking about Karma increased generosity in karmic believers across religious affiliations, including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and non-relig...
Article
In this investigation of cultural differences in the experience of obligation, we distinguish between Confucian Role Ethics versus Relative Autonomy lay theories of motivation and illustrate them with data showing relevant cultural differences in both social judgments and intrapersonal experience. First, when judging others, Western European herita...
Article
Full-text available
Does moral culture contribute to the evolution of cooperation? Here, we examine individuals' and communities' models of what it means to be good and bad and how they correspond to corollary behavior across a variety of socioecological contexts. Our sample includes over 600 people from eight different field sites that include foragers, horticultural...
Data
Descriptive demographic statistics, methods, statistical models, main and supplementary analyses. (PDF)
Article
Full-text available
Researchers have recently proposed that "moralistic" religions-those with moral doctrines, moralistic supernatural punishment, and lower emphasis on ritual-emerged as an effect of greater wealth and material security. One interpretation appeals to life history theory, predicting that individuals with "slow life history" strategies will be more attr...
Preprint
Mental state reasoning has been theorized as a core feature of how we navigate our social worlds, and as especially vital to moral reasoning. Judgments of moral wrong-doing and punish- worthiness often hinge upon evaluations of the perpetrator’s mental states. In two studies, we examine how differences in cultural conceptions about how one should t...
Chapter
A shared fluency theory of social cohesiveness is outlined that accounts for disparate phenomena under a unified framework. This starts from the well-known metacognitive feeling of processing fluency (henceforth fluency), which is the subjective ease with which a mental operation is performed. Fluency is extended to the social domain, and the notio...
Article
Behavioral synchrony, physically keeping together in time with others, is a widespread feature of human cultural practices. Emerging evidence suggests that the physical coordination involved in synchronizing one's behavior with another engages the cognitive systems involved in reasoning about others' mental states (i.e., mentalizing). In three expe...
Article
The spiritual but not religious (SBNR) are a growing population in secularizing societies. Yet, we know little about the underlying psychology of this group or their belief profile. Based on an individual difference approach, we address this knowledge gap by comparing SBNR with religious and non-religious participants. In a sample of Americans (n =...
Article
Full-text available
Understanding the expansion of human sociality and cooperation beyond kith and kin remains an important evolutionary puzzle. There is likely a complex web of processes including institutions, norms, and practices that contributes to this phenomenon. Considerable evidence suggests that one such process involves certain components of religious system...
Article
The scientific study of religion has thus far overlooked the study of beliefs and practices that are centered on the notion of karma: ethical causation across one or different lifetimes. Here, we outline a set of pertinent questions about karmic beliefs and practices ripe for research, namely (1) their cultural distribution around the world, (2) th...
Article
Full-text available
A considerable body of research cross-culturally examines the evolution of religious traditions, beliefs and behaviors. The bulk of this research, however, draws from coded qualitative ethnographies rather than from standardized methods specifically designed to measure religious beliefs and behaviors. Psychological data sets that examine religious...
Article
Full-text available
Cognitive scientists have increasingly turned to cultural transmission to explain the widespread nature of religion. One key hypothesis focuses on memory, proposing that that minimally counterintuitive (MCI) content facilitates the transmission of supernatural beliefs. We propose two caveats to this hypothesis. (1) Memory effects decrease as MCI co...
Article
Full-text available
In our response to the 27 commentaries, we refine the theoretical claims, clarify several misconceptions of our framework, and explore substantial disagreements. In doing so, we (1) show that our framework accommodates multiple historical scenarios; (2) debate the historical evidence, particularly about “pre-Axial” religions; (3) offer important de...
Article
Full-text available
Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of human cooperation and societal complexity has dramatically expanded. This fact challenges standard evolutionary explanations of prosociality because well-studied mechanisms of cooperation based on genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice falter as people increasingly engage in fleeting trans...
Article
Gomes and McCullough (2015) are to be commended on their high-powered attempt to replicate our earlier research (Shariff & Norenzayan, 2007). We suggest that notable differences between the two studies indicate that Gomes and McCullough were testing a different question. Here we place Gomes and McCullough's results in context with other studies and...
Article
Full-text available
Priming has emerged as a valuable tool within the psychological study of religion, allowing for tests of religion’s causal effect on a number of psychological outcomes, such as prosocial behavior. As the literature has grown, questions about the reliability and boundary conditions of religious priming have arisen. We use a combination of traditiona...
Article
Full-text available
We present a cultural evolutionary theory of the origins of prosocial religion s, and address two puzzles in human psychology and cultural history: 1) the rise of large-scale cooperation and 2) the simultaneous spread of prosocial religions in the last ten-to-twelve millennia. We argue that these two developments were importantly linked and mutuall...
Chapter
Bringing insights from the cognitive science of religion and cultural evolution together, this chapter describes a process of coevolution between escalating societal size and complexity on one hand, and devotional practices to increasingly powerful and interventionist deities, credible displays of faith, and rituals and practices that promote ingro...
Article
Humanity is teeming with breathtaking theodiversity-in religious beliefs, behaviors, and traditions, as well as in various intensities and forms of disbelief. Yet the origins and consequences of this diversity have received limited attention in psychology. I first describe how evolved psychological processes that influence and respond to cultural e...
Article
Full-text available
Threat of supernatural punishment can promote prosociality in large-scale societies; however, its impact in smaller societies with less powerful deities is less understood. Also, while perceived material insecurity has been associated with increasing religious belief, the relationships between insecurity, supernatural punishment beliefs, and prosoc...
Article
I address three common empirical questions about the connection between religion and morality: (1) Do religious beliefs and practices shape moral behavior? (2) Do all religions universally concern themselves with moral behavior? (3) Is religion necessary for morality? I draw on recent empirical research on religious prosociality to reach several co...
Chapter
Religion is a ubiquitous aspect of human culture, yet until recently, relatively little was known about its natural origins and effects on human minds and societies. This is changing, as scientific interest in religion is on the rise. Debates about the evolutionary origins and functions of religion, including its origins in genetic and cultural evo...
Chapter
Full-text available
Religion may be one factor that enabled large-scale complex human societies to evolve. Utilizing a cultural evolutionary approach, this chapter seeks explanations for patterns of complexity and variation in religion within and across groups, over time. Properties of religious systems (e.g., rituals, ritualized behaviors, overimitation, synchrony, s...
Chapter
Full-text available
Building on foundations from the cognitive science of religion, this chapter synthesizes theoretical insights and empirical evidence concerning the processes by which cultural evolutionary processes driven by intergroup competition may have shaped the package of beliefs, rituals, practices, and institutions that constitute modern world religions. F...
Article
Atheists are distrusted in societies with religious majorities. However, relatively little is known about the underlying reasons for this phenomenon. Previous evidence suggests that distrust of atheists is in part the result of believers thinking that being under supernatural surveillance by a watchful God underlies moral behavior. However, secular...
Article
How did human societies scale up from small, tight-knit groups of hunter-gatherers to the large, anonymous, cooperative societies of today--even though anonymity is the enemy of cooperation? How did organized religions with "Big Gods"--the great monotheistic and polytheistic faiths--spread to colonize most minds in the world? In Big Gods, Ara Noren...
Article
Although most people are religious, there are hundreds of millions of religious disbelievers in the world. What is religious disbelief and how does it arise? Recent developments in the scientific study of religious beliefs and behaviors point to the conclusion that religious disbelief arises from multiple interacting pathways, traceable to cognitiv...
Article
Full-text available
Religious believers intuitively conceptualize deities as intentional agents with mental states who anticipate and respond to human beliefs, desires and concerns. It follows that mentalizing deficits, associated with the autistic spectrum and also commonly found in men more than in women, may undermine this intuitive support and reduce belief in a p...
Article
Scientific interest in the cognitive underpinnings of religious belief has grown in recent years. However, to date, little experimental research has focused on the cognitive processes that may promote religious disbelief. The present studies apply a dual-process model of cognitive processing to this problem, testing the hypothesis that analytic pro...
Article
Atheists have long been distrusted, in part because they do not believe that a watchful, judging god monitors their behavior. However, in many parts of the world, secular institutions such as police, judges, and courts are also potent sources of social monitoring that encourage prosocial behavior. Reminders of such secular authority could therefore...
Article
Believers describe God as a strategic social agent who perceives human thoughts and actions. Thinking about God therefore might make believers feel as if their behavior is being monitored, a possibility we call the supernatural monitoring hypothesis. Three studies offered new and converging empirical support for this hypothesis using two variables...
Article
This chapter examines the hypothesis that religions facilitate costly behaviors that benefit others. Although sociological surveys reveal an association between self-reports of religiosity and prosociality, psychological experiments measuring religiosity and actual prosocial behavior suggest that this association is context-specific-it emerges prim...
Article
Full-text available
Recent polls indicate that atheists are among the least liked people in areas with religious majorities (i.e., in most of the world). The sociofunctional approach to prejudice, combined with a cultural evolutionary theory of religion's effects on cooperation, suggest that anti-atheist prejudice is particularly motivated by distrust. Consistent with...