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Covers the causes and effects of religion and non-belief, with a focus on psychology and social science.

Tom Rees
300 posts

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  • November 13, 2015
  • 04:24 PM

Make people uncertain then remind them about God, and they become more fearful of sin

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s plenty of research about suggesting that feeling uncertain can increase the strength of belief in god in different ways. But what’s not clear is whether belief in god reduces the ill effects of uncertainty, or is a response to it. One theory is that a belief in God provides a kind of reassurance, which [Read More...]... Read more »

  • November 10, 2015
  • 05:00 PM

Atheist kids are more altruisitic! The study is sound, but what does it mean?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

You may have seen the buzz around a recent study which found that atheist kids are more altruistic than religious kids. Like any study that reinforces preconceptions of a vocal group, it was social media gold dust. I want to take a critical look at it and some of the objections that have been raised [Read More...]... Read more »

  • November 10, 2015
  • 05:00 PM

Kids in atheist families are more altruistic! The study is sound, but what does it mean?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

You may have seen the buzz around a recent study which found that kids in atheist families are more altruistic than kids in religious families. Like any study that reinforces preconceptions of a vocal group, it was social media gold dust. I want to take a critical look at it and some of the objections [Read More...]... Read more »

  • November 5, 2015
  • 09:47 PM

Your good deeds are pleasing God? That might impress kids but it doesn’t impress adults!

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

The most magnificent charitable gesture can fall flat if it turns out that you just did it to get a promotion, or get some other kind of pay off. People don’t like it if they think they detect a hidden motive behind apparently charitable behaviour. Last year, research by University of Kentucky psychologist Will Gervais [Read More...]... Read more »

  • October 16, 2015
  • 11:44 AM

Subliminal religious prompts might not make people nicer after all

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Back in 2007, right when I was starting this blog, a ground breaking study revealed an extra-ordinary finding. What the researchers had discovered was that just giving people subliminal reminders of religion was enough to make them be more generous in a something called the dictator game. The really extraordinary thing was that the same [Read More...]... Read more »

  • October 12, 2015
  • 09:51 PM

What do people think God is actually like?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

The ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes once scathingly pointed out that people imagine god to be pretty much like themselves: But mortals suppose that gods are born, wear their own clothes and have a voice and body. Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black; Thracians that theirs are are blue-eyed and red-haired. Christian tend [Read More...]... Read more »

  • October 7, 2015
  • 12:50 PM

In a just world, how you act depends on who you think delivers justice

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Many years ago I worked a couple of seasons as a porter on the now-defunct hovercraft service across the English Channel. One of the old hands used to tell me regularly that “what you lose on the swings, you make up on the roundabouts” – a phrase that’s stuck with me ever since. What he [Read More...]... Read more »

  • September 30, 2015
  • 09:40 PM

Does more education mean more, or less, religion? It depends whether you take intelligence into account.

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s pretty well established now that there is a statistical connection between intelligence and non-belief. The effect is small, but it’s consistent and has been shown many times. Education, however, is a different matter. Some studies show that educated people are more religious, while others find they are less religious. Now there’s an obvious problem [Read More...]... Read more »

  • September 23, 2015
  • 02:12 PM

Ask students about religion, and they’ll tell you they drink less

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Religious people tend to drink less than non-religious people. We know that because, well because when you ask them, that’s what they tell you. But here’s the thing. We know that what people tell interviewers can vary with the circumstances that they find themselves in. Indeed, it can vary quite a lot from reality. People [Read More...]... Read more »

Rodriguez, L., Neighbors, C., & Foster, D. (2014) Priming effects of self-reported drinking and religiosity. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 28(1), 1-9. DOI: 10.1037/a0031828  

  • September 10, 2015
  • 05:41 PM

Does belief that God is in control reduce support for government welfare?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s an enduring puzzle about religion and government, and it’s about what effect religions have on government welfare policies. That’s down to an intriguing observation: that more religious countries tend to have a weaker welfare state. Quite why this is so is a matter of dispute. After all, given religion’s association with altruism, you might [Read More...]... Read more »

  • September 9, 2015
  • 09:13 AM

Churchgoing has been on the decline for decades in Western nations: here’s why

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s a fact that, in the West at least, fewer people are going to religious services than they used to a few decades ago. Countries do follow different trajectories – secularization happened first in the Protestant countries of Northern Europe and Australia, and more recently the Catholic countries of Europe. The Americas have fought the [Read More...]... Read more »

  • July 27, 2015
  • 05:36 PM

Distrust of atheists is widespread and pervasive: more evidence

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A new opinion poll has some bad news for atheists. Some 40% of the US population would not consider voting for an atheist presidential candidate, regardless of their policies. That’s fewer than would vote for a gay or lesbian – or even (gasp!) a Muslim! It’s pretty much in accordance with a previous poll which showed that atheism is a bigger no-no for presidential candidates than homosexuality, extra-marital affairs, or drug use.... Read more »

  • July 22, 2015
  • 12:55 PM

That was weird – are you a mind reader? Thinking style affects how we interpret weird experiences.

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Psychologists have identified that all of us have two kinds of thinking styles. There’s the slow, deep thinking style where you ponder things for a while before making a decision. And then there’s gut instinct – where you make a decision based on intuition. Some people tend to prefer one kind of thinking style over [Read More...]... Read more »

  • June 1, 2015
  • 10:49 AM

The statistics are clear: a cultural shift away from religion is underway in the USA

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

From time to time, we see surveys from the USA that suggest an increasing tide of non-affiliation to religion, especially among the young. Taken in isolation, it’s really hard to know what to make of them. Maybe, for example, what we are seeing reflects religious apathy among the young. Maybe it’s simply that people believe [Read More...]... Read more »

  • May 28, 2015
  • 09:33 AM

Live in a religious country? Your work ethic might be different.

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

One of the seminal pieces of research on religion and society was done in the early 20th century by a guy named Max Weber, who concluded that what he called the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ helped explain why the countries of Northern Europe and America were so prosperous. It’s a provocative conclusion that later research has shown was [Read More...]... Read more »

  • May 21, 2015
  • 04:05 PM

You can make people less religious by flicking their brain with magnetic pulses

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Many years ago, a guy called Michael Persinger achieved a certain amount of fame with a claim that stimulating the right part of the brain with a magnetic field could give people a religious experience. Although others weren’t able to get the same results, studies since then have found that brain damage to parts of [Read More...]... Read more »

  • May 1, 2015
  • 09:28 AM

In the face of discrimination, non-believers commit more strongly to their atheism

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s widely recognised that atheists are one of the most marginalised groups in the USA. As you might imagine, this can cause all sorts of problems for non-believers. But might it also help explain why the public face of atheism in the USA is so stridently vocal? Many American atheists are passionate about their identity as [Read More...]... Read more »

  • March 24, 2015
  • 05:40 PM

Did belief in ghosts help kick-start civilization?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

In a remote highland region of south-eastern Turkey lies the remains of what is possibly the world’s old temple. Dating to 11,000 years ago, it predates even the rise of agriculture – as far as we can tell, it also predates the first complex societies. Now, not all religions are the same. Some (a minority, [Read More...]... Read more »

Watts, J., Greenhill, S., Atkinson, Q., Currie, T., Bulbulia, J., & Gray, R. (2015) Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1804), 20142556-20142556. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2556  

  • March 19, 2015
  • 01:22 PM

Secular community groups are just as effective as religious ones in stimulating concern for others

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Researchers around the world have found that subliminal reminders of religion can have some fairly profound effects (for example, encouraging honesty, obedience, revenge and staying power – and, as we saw in the previous post – even risk taking). But is this specifically about religion? Perhaps being reminded about god makes people virtuous – but [Read More...]... Read more »

  • March 16, 2015
  • 09:18 PM

Thinking about God causes people to take bigger risks… wait, what???

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A team from Stanford University Graduate School of Business has just published a nice series of studies showing that priming people with the idea of god can increase their appetite for risk. Over at the Friendly Atheist, Rachel Ford did a good write up, leading with the headline conclusion that thinking about god actually causes [Read More...]... Read more »

Noussair, C., Trautmann, S., van de Kuilen, G., & Vellekoop, N. (2013) Risk aversion and religion. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 47(2), 165-183. DOI: 10.1007/s11166-013-9174-8  

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