Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world's top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across (...) populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges. (shrink)
The authors find East Asians to be holistic, attending to the entire field and assigning causality to it, making relatively little use of categories and formal logic, and relying on "dialectical" reasoning, whereas Westerners, are more analytic, paying attention primarily to the object and the categories to which it belongs and using rules, including formal logic, to understand its behavior. The 2 types of cognitive processes are embedded in different naive metaphysical systems and tacit epistemologies. The authors speculate that the (...) origin of these differences is traceable to markedly different social systems. The theory and the evidence presented call into question long-held assumptions about basic cognitive processes and even about the appropriateness of the process–content distinction. (shrink)
We develop a cultural evolutionary theory of the origins of prosocial religions and apply it to resolve two puzzles in human psychology and cultural history: (1) the rise of large-scale cooperation among strangers and, simultaneously, (2) the spread of prosocial religions in the last 10–12 millennia. We argue that these two developments were importantly linked and mutually energizing. We explain how a package of culturally evolved religious beliefs and practices characterized by increasingly potent, moralizing, supernatural agents, credible displays of faith, (...) and other psychologically active elements conducive to social solidarity promoted high fertility rates and large-scale cooperation with co-religionists, often contributing to success in intergroup competition and conflict. In turn, prosocial religious beliefs and practices spread and aggregated as these successful groups expanded, or were copied by less successful groups. This synthesis is grounded in the idea that although religious beliefs and practices originally arose as nonadaptive by-products of innate cognitive functions, particular cultural variants were then selected for their prosocial effects in a long-term, cultural evolutionary process. This framework (1) reconciles key aspects of the adaptationist and by-product approaches to the origins of religion, (2) explains a variety of empirical observations that have not received adequate attention, and (3) generates novel predictions. Converging lines of evidence drawn from diverse disciplines provide empirical support while at the same time encouraging new research directions and opening up new questions for exploration and debate. (shrink)
Religion is not an evolutionary adaptation per se, but a recurring by-product of the complex evolutionary landscape that sets cognitive, emotional and material conditions for ordinary human interactions. Religion involves extraordinary use of ordinary cognitive processes to passionately display costly devotion to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural agents. The conceptual foundations of religion are intuitively given by task-specific panhuman cognitive domains, including folkmechanics, folkbiology, folkpsychology. Core religious beliefs minimally violate ordinary notions about how the world is, with all of its (...) inescapable problems, thus enabling people to imagine minimally impossible supernatural worlds that solve existential problems, including death and deception. Here the focus is on folkpsychology and agency. A key feature of the supernatural agent concepts common to all religions is the triggering of an "Innate Releasing Mechanism," or “agency detector,” whose proper domain encompasses animate objects relevant to hominid survival - such as predators, protectors and prey - but which actually extends to moving dots on computer screens, voices in wind, faces on clouds. Folkpsychology also crucially involves metarepresentation, which makes deception possible and threatens any social order; however, these same metacognitive capacities provide the hope and promise of open-ended solutions through representations of counterfactual supernatural worlds that cannot be logically or empirically verified or falsified. Because religious beliefs cannot be deductively or inductively validated, validation occurs only by ritually addressing the very emotions motivating religion. Cross-cultural experimental evidence encourages these claims. (shrink)
In our response to the 28 (largely positive) commentaries from an esteemed collection of researchers, we (1) consolidate additional evidence, extensions, and amplifications offered by our commentators; (2) emphasize the value of integrating experimental and ethnographic methods, and show how researchers using behavioral games have done precisely this; (3) present our concerns with arguments from several commentators that separate variable from or ; (4) address concerns that the patterns we highlight marking WEIRD people as psychological outliers arise from aspects of (...) the researchers and the research process; (5) respond to the claim that as members of the same species, humans must have the same invariant psychological processes; (6) address criticisms of our telescoping contrasts; and (7) return to the question of explaining why WEIRD people are psychologically unusual. We believe a broad-based behavioral science of human nature needs to integrate a variety of methods and apply them to diverse populations, well beyond the WEIRD samples it has largely relied upon. (shrink)
The authors examined cultural preferences for formal versus intuitive reasoning among East Asian (Chinese and Korean), Asian American, and European American university students. We investigated categorization (Studies 1 and 2), conceptual structure (Study 3), and deductive reasoning (Studies 3 and 4). In each study a cognitive conflict was activated between formal and intuitive strategies of reasoning. European Americans, more than Chinese and Koreans, set aside intuition in favor of formal reasoning. Conversely, Chinese and Koreans relied on intuitive strategies more than (...) European Americans. Asian Americans' reasoning was either identical to that of European Americans, or intermediate. Differences emerged against a background of similar reasoning tendencies across cultures in the absence of conflict between formal and intuitive strategies. (shrink)
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 show that our framework accommodates multiple historical scenarios; debate the historical evidence, particularly about “pre-Axial” religions; offer important details about cultural evolutionary theory; clarify the termprosociality;and discuss proximal mechanisms. We review many interesting extensions, amplifications, and qualifications of our approach made by the commentators.
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, morally concerned supernatural entity. However, much less is known about belief in karma—another culturally widespread but ostensibly non‐agentic supernatural entity reflecting ethical causation across reincarnations. In two studies and four high‐powered samples, including mostly (...) Christian Canadians and mostly Hindu Indians (Study 1, N = 2,006) and mostly Christian Americans and Singaporean Buddhists (Study 2, N = 1,752), we provide the first systematic empirical investigation of the cognitive intuitions underlying various forms of belief in karma. We used path analyses to (a) replicate tests of the previously documented cognitive predictors of belief in God, (b) test whether this same network of variables predicts belief in karma, and (c) examine the relative contributions of cognitive and cultural variables to both sets of beliefs. We found that cognitive tendencies toward intuitive thinking, mentalizing, dualism, and teleological thinking predicted a variety of beliefs about karma—including morally laden, non‐agentic, and agentic conceptualizations—above and beyond the variability explained by cultural learning about karma across cultures. These results provide further evidence for an independent role for both culture and cognition in supporting diverse types of supernatural beliefs in distinct cultural contexts. (shrink)
Inducing religious thoughts increases prosocial behavior among strangers in anonymous contexts. These effects can be explained both by behavioral priming processes as well as by reputational mechanisms. We examine whether belief in moralizing supernatural agents supplies a case for what McKay & Dennett (M&D) call evolved misbelief, concluding that they might be more persuasively seen as an example of culturally evolved misbelief.
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 testing three accounts of how cognitive style comes to be related to belief in God, karma, witchcraft, and to the belief that religion is necessary for morality. The first, the dual process model, (...) posits that analytical thinking is recruited in overriding intuitions related to supernatural beliefs. The second, the expressive rationality model, posits that analytical thinking is recruited in supporting already-held beliefs in an identity-protective manner. And the third, the counter-normativity rationality model, posits that analytical thinking is recruited to question beliefs supported by prevailing cultural norms. In Study 2, we tested the replicability of our results in a re-analysis of published data. The association between analytic thinking style and beliefs was replicated. We conclude that whereas the counter-normativity rationality model was contradicted by the data, both the dual process and expressive rationality models received varying degrees of empirical support, but neither model fully accounted for all the patterns in the data. (shrink)
The evolutionary landscape that canalizes human thought and behavior into religious beliefs and practices includes naturally selected emotions, cognitive modules, and constraints on social interactions. Evolutionary by-products, including metacognitive awareness of death and possibilities for deception, further channel people into religious paths. Religion represents a community's costly commitment to a counterintuitive world of supernatural agents who manage people's existential anxieties. Religious devotion, though not an adaptation, informs all cultures and most people.