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

Tom Rees
313 posts

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  • March 29, 2016
  • 11:30 AM

Do you wanna be in my clan? Moralising gods encourage long-distance sharing with co-religionists

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Most gods that have been invented don’t give a damn about what us mortals get up to. Researchers think that  belief in the few that do, the ones that can be thought of as moralising gods, might have a significant effect on behaviour. For example, more complex societies are more likely to believe in moralising [Read More...]... Read more »

Purzycki, B., Apicella, C., Atkinson, Q., Cohen, E., McNamara, R., Willard, A., Xygalatas, D., Norenzayan, A., & Henrich, J. (2016) Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature16980  

  • March 23, 2016
  • 08:57 PM

Trust is more important than religion in encouraging charitable acts

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s well established that religious people tend to volunteer more and give more to charity than the non-religious. There are many factors that could contribute to this. Many charities that explicitly to support co-religionists or to promote religion, and what’s more religious people also tend to be older and married, both of which predict But [Read More...]... Read more »

Glanville, J., Paxton, P., & Wang, Y. (2015) Social Capital and Generosity: A Multilevel Analysis. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. DOI: 10.1177/0899764015591366  

  • March 17, 2016
  • 09:41 PM

Dogmatic atheism and fundamentalist Christianity: creating certainty in an uncertain world

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Evidence is building up that, because religion helps people to deal with uncertainties of life, it’s particularly attractive to the kind of people who have a hard time dealing with uncertainty. But what about atheists? Some atheists seem rather fixed and absolutist in their beliefs. Perhaps they use atheism as a prop in much the [Read More...]... Read more »

  • March 10, 2016
  • 09:20 PM

Use of prayer by African-Americans can help explain why they are more sensitive to pain

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

African-Americans are more sensitive to pain than Caucasian (white) Americans. That’s been shown in comparisons of much pain is experienced in illnesses such as AIDS and arthritis, after surgery, and in conditions such as lower back pain. It’s also been shown experimentally, when volunteers undergo painful experiences (like holding your hand in ice-cold water) and report [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 19, 2016
  • 03:42 PM

Can atheism increase stock market volatility?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a ridiculous idea, so daft it’s probably not even worth spending time thinking about. But stick with me on this because the analysis is a fascinating one. I’m talking about a recent study by Benjamin Blau, a finance expert at Utah State University. He picked up on a [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 12, 2016
  • 04:33 PM

Planned Parenthood is disgusting? What does that even mean?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Whatever the ins and outs behind the tragic shootings at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, it seems safe to assume that the heated and inflammatory rhetoric that has characterised the debate around abortion in the USA has played a major role. A couple of weeks ago, Planned Parenthood innocently asked Twitter users for one word [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 11, 2016
  • 03:26 PM

Religion linked to reduced levels of stress hormones in young American Blacks

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Compared with Whites, Black Americans have  high levels of an important stress hormone called cortisol circulating in their bloodstream. No-one really knows why this is, but the differences remain even after you take into account social and psychological factors. It seems likely that simply being black exposes you to a cumulative effect of increased lifetime [Read More...]... Read more »

Assari, S., Moghani Lankarani, M., Malekahmadi, M., Caldwell, C., & Zimmerman, M. (2015) Baseline Religion Involvement Predicts Subsequent Salivary Cortisol Levels Among Male But not Female Black Youth. International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 13(4). DOI: 10.5812/ijem.31790  

  • February 4, 2016
  • 10:06 AM

A sense of mystery results from the brain failing to shut down flights of fancy

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

People who have a mystical experience might describe it as being “touched by some higher or greater truth or power“, or as “experiences felt or experienced beyond the realms of ordinary consciousness”. Psychologists define them as a breakdown in the usual sense of time or space, or of the difference between the self and the [Read More...]... Read more »

Cristofori, I., Bulbulia, J., Shaver, J., Wilson, M., Krueger, F., & Grafman, J. (2016) Neural correlates of mystical experience. Neuropsychologia, 212-220. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.11.021  

  • January 11, 2016
  • 05:11 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 »

  • January 6, 2016
  • 05:04 PM

Reminding people of mortality makes them more religious? Not if you use magnets to mess with their brains!

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

By using a carefully calibrated magnetic field, you can change the patterns of brain activity. It should come as no surprise, then, that you can actually change the intensity of religious beliefs in this way, at least temporarily. For example, a recent study found that activating the brain’s parietal lobe (the bit near the top [Read More...]... Read more »

Holbrook, C., Izuma, K., Deblieck, C., Fessler, D., & Iacoboni, M. (2015) Neuromodulation of Group Prejudice and Religious Belief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsv107  

  • December 22, 2015
  • 02:21 PM

The God-serving bias: thank God if you live, but don’t blame God if you die

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Bad things happen to good people. On the face of this, this causes problems for belief systems that insist on some kind of cosmic karma – the idea that there is a supernatural overseer who metes out punishments to the bad and rewards the good. Theologians turn to several different rationales and justifications to explain [Read More...]... Read more »

Riggio, H., Uhalt, J., & Matthies, B. (2014) Unanswered Prayers: Religiosity and the God-Serving Bias. The Journal of Social Psychology, 154(6), 491-514. DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2014.953024  

  • December 18, 2015
  • 06:12 PM

A world by design – even atheists intuitively think the natural world has a designer

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Research over the past few years has shown that many people intuitively think that things in the natural world exist for some ulterior purpose – almost as if they had been designed that way. We have a tendency to agree with statements such as ‘water condenses to moisten the air’, or ‘the sun shines in [Read More...]... Read more »

  • December 18, 2015
  • 01:11 PM

Whether religious people are more healthy depends upon the social context

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

One of the accepted truisms of religious research is that religious people tend to be healthier than the non-religious. Over the years I’ve seen many studies looking into this but haven’t blogged about any since 2012 because, well, they’re all a bit boring. One of the problems is that almost all the research is done [Read More...]... Read more »

  • December 3, 2015
  • 10:09 AM

Conspiracy theories flourish when people feel like things are slipping out of control

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

You young ‘uns may not remember the dark days of 1999, when the imminent arrival of the millennium was met with a fair degree of fear and trepidation. And it wasn’t just your usual end-times hysteria. There was actually some real concern that a software bug – the infamous Y2K bug – a could cause [Read More...]... Read more »

  • 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 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 »

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