Afterlife beliefs: category specificity and sensitivity to biological priming

Religion, Brain and Behavior 1 (1):5-17 (2011)
Adults have been shown to attribute certain properties more frequently than others to the dead. This category-specific pattern has been interpreted in terms of simulation constraints, whereby it may be harder to imagine the absence of some states than others. Afterlife beliefs have also shown context-sensitivity, suggesting that environmental exposure to different types of information might influence adults? reasoning about post-death states. We sought to clarify category and context effects in adults afterlife reasoning. Participants read a story describing the death of a human protagonist after exposure to a biological prime, an emotional prime, or no prime. Emotions, desires, and epistemic states were more frequently attributed to the dead character than biological, psychobiological, and perceptual states, partially replicating previous findings. The biological prime decreased the attribution of certain post-death states relative to the control condition, whereas the emotional prime had no effect. Simulation theory does not provide a satisfactory explanation of the present findings, which may be better accounted for by conflict between different cognitive systems that are engaged in thinking about the dead.
Keywords afterlife  emotions  simulation constraint
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