The Memorability of Supernatural Concepts: Some Puzzles and New Theoretical Directions

Journal of Cognition and Culture 22 (1-2):90-135 (2022)
  Copy   BIBTEX


We evaluate the literature on the memorability of supernatural concepts, itself part of a growing body of work in the emerging cognitive science of religion. Specifically, we focus on Boyer’s Minimally Counterintuitive hypothesis according to which supernatural concepts tap a cognitively privileged memory-enhancing mechanism linked to violations of default intuitive inferences. Our assessment reveals that the literature on the MCI hypothesis is mired in empirical contradictions and methodological shortcomings which makes it difficult to assess the validity of competing theoretical models, including the MCI hypothesis itself. In light of this fractured picture, we make the case for an account of the MCI effect which dispenses with a memory mechanism specific to supernatural concepts. This account has several desirable properties. First, it preserves Boyer’s pioneering insights regarding the ontological status of supernatural concepts and the cognitive mechanisms that give rise to their cultural prevalence. Second, our account is based on independently-motivated mechanisms that are well-established in the literature. Third, this account offers a principled resolution of the tension in the extant literature between studies that do replicate the MCI effect and those that seemingly fail to do so. Finally, because the proposed mechanisms are not specific to supernatural concepts, the scope of the MCI effect may be extended to account for a broader range of highly transmissible concepts than those it was originally intended to explain. We conclude with a set of theoretical and methodological prescriptions designed to guide future research on the memorability of supernatural concepts.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 83,944

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Frege puzzles?Joseph Almog - 2008 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 37 (6):549 - 574.
The embodied bases of supernatural concepts.Brian R. Cornwell, Aron K. Barbey & W. Kyle Simmons - 2004 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (6):735-736.
Supernaturalism is Unwittingly Naturalistic.Earl Stanley B. Fronda - 2015 - International Philosophical Quarterly 55 (3):363-382.
Seven Puzzles of Thought and How to Solve Them: An Originalist Theory of Concepts.Richard Mark Sainsbury & Michael Tye - 2012 - Oxford, England and New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press. Edited by Michael Tye.


Added to PP

6 (#1,151,447)

6 months
1 (#505,949)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references