Epiphenom

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283 posts · 319,986 views

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

Tom Rees
283 posts

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  • March 24, 2015
  • 05:40 PM
  • 5 views

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
  • 78 views

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
  • 99 views

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  

  • March 15, 2015
  • 09:46 PM
  • 74 views

Suicide in Northern Ireland is not linked to religious affiliation

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Conventionally, religious affiliation is supposed to reduce the risk of suicide. In fact, the worldwide data show a rather patchy picture, probably because the effects of religion on suicide risk depend on the social context. One of the godfathers of the sociology of religion was a guy named Émile Durkheim. At the tail end of [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 25, 2015
  • 09:46 PM
  • 114 views

Is belief in moral progress a substitute for religion?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s a well studied phenomenon called Terror Management Theory which basically says that, when people are reminded of their own death, their beliefs change in certain predictable ways.  People cling more strongly to beliefs that make the future seem more controllable and comfortable – and that includes turning to religion (see: Religion, Patriotism and Death). [Read More...]... Read more »

Rutjens, B., van Harreveld, F., van der Pligt, J., van Elk, M., & Pyszczynski, T. (2014) A march to a better world? Religiosity and the existential function of belief in social-moral progress. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 1-33. DOI: 10.1080/10508619.2014.990345  

  • February 24, 2015
  • 10:15 PM
  • 127 views

Most supernatural beliefs are about avoiding harm, not bringing benefit

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A survey of supernatural beliefs across cultures around the world has found that beliefs involving hazards and harms were about 50% more common than beliefs about benefits, opportunities and other good things. Daniel Fessler, at the University of California, and colleagues searched a representative dataset of 60 cultures held at the Human Relations Area Files [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 2, 2015
  • 09:22 PM
  • 64 views

Wealth and enlightenment in the Ancient World

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

The period between the 5th and the 3rd century BCE was a fertile time for the world’s religions. In India, Buddhism and Jainism began to take hold. In China, Confucianism and Daoism likewise attracted mass appeal. And Europe saw the golden age of Greek philosophy. What these movements have in common is that they all [Read More...]... Read more »

  • January 26, 2015
  • 09:54 PM
  • 190 views

Why are American Atheists Disagreeable and Unconscientious?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s a popular model of personality that splits it into five components: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. And it’s well known that, while atheists tend to score high on openness, they tend to get low scores on conscientiousness and agreeableness. Back in 2010, Vincent Saroglou and colleagues assembled data from all the [Read More...]... Read more »

Gebauer, J., Bleidorn, W., Gosling, S., Rentfrow, P., Lamb, M., & Potter, J. (2014) Cross-cultural variations in Big Five relationships with religiosity: A sociocultural motives perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(6), 1064-1091. DOI: 10.1037/a0037683  

  • January 6, 2015
  • 07:00 AM
  • 213 views

Can religion reduce crime?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Studying links between religious belief and crime is notoriously difficult. On a crude level, people in prisons in the USA are more likely to be religious than the general population. Of course, there are any number of confounding factors that could be at play here. So you need to look over time to have any [Read More...]... Read more »

  • January 1, 2015
  • 11:56 AM
  • 290 views

Why are unfalsifiable beliefs so attractive?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Recently, Dr. John Wentworth, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued that regardless of future advances, science will likely never discover whether the supernatural exists. He said,”almost always, our research raises more questions than it answers, therefore the question of God’s existence just isn’t scientifically testable.” If you are religious, how does [Read More...]... Read more »

  • November 28, 2014
  • 11:50 AM
  • 264 views

When you think about spirits, do you see ghosts?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Humans are finely honed for spotting intentional agents in our environment. Meaning that if you hear a rustling, or see a branch move, you’re instantly on the alert in case it is another person (this effect is has a name: ‘hyperactive agency detection’). You can see why evolution would have favoured that. Better safe than [Read More...]

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van Elk, M., Rutjens, B., van der Pligt, J., & van Harreveld, F. (2014) Priming of supernatural agent concepts and agency detection. Religion, Brain , 1-30. DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2014.933444  

  • November 19, 2014
  • 03:43 PM
  • 329 views

Religious and paranormal believers are high in empathy – but confused about how the world works

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s a strand of thought that says that belief in the supernatural is founded upon a misunderstanding of how the world works (see: You either believe in it all, or you don’t). On the other hand, there’s another perspective that says the cognitive problem is with the atheists. Belief in gods, according to this school [Read More...]

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  • November 13, 2014
  • 05:28 PM
  • 254 views

Hard times, tough gods

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Almost all cultures have some kind of supernatural beliefs. But it may surprise you to know that belief in moralising supernatural beings, who care about whether mortals do good or bad, are far from universal. That’s fascinating, and it begs the question: “why?”. Why do some cultures bother to believe spirits who watch over us [Read More...]

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Botero CA, Gardner B, Kirby KR, Bulbulia J, Gavin MC, & Gray RD. (2014) The ecology of religious beliefs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 25385605  

  • November 7, 2014
  • 04:50 PM
  • 217 views

It hurts! Atheists and Christians don’t feel each others pain, but with a twist.

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

For many people, their religion is like a badge of social identity. You feel an affinity with people who share a religion – not surprising given that you will share many cultural and social touch points. But will you feel their pain? If shown a picture of a Christian grimacing, will you mentally flinch? What about [Read More...]

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  • October 20, 2014
  • 05:53 PM
  • 146 views

Religion matters more than education when it comes to creationist beliefs

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

The USA is a conundrum when it comes to creationist beliefs. While the US comes about average in high-school science education results, staggering numbers of American adults are not only creationists but young earth creationists – believing that the earth is a mere 6,000 years old. Now, there’s quite a lot of research to suggest [Read More...]

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  • October 14, 2014
  • 06:30 PM
  • 138 views

Are religious pictures more powerful than words?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Subliminal priming is a classic way to study how religion might affect attitudes and behaviour. But previous studies have had mixed results – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the last post, I described a study which found that using words to prime Muslims had little effect, but subtly playing the call to prayer [Read More...]

... Read more »

  • September 25, 2014
  • 05:26 PM
  • 152 views

Hearing the Islamic Call to Prayer encourages Muslims to cheat less

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

People placed in religious environments tend to act more morally – but what, exactly, triggers this behavioural shift? There’s been a few recent studies which I think are really interesting, because they begin to reveal the importance of culture. In the first set of studies, Mark Aveyard at the (American University of Sharjah, United Arab [Read More...]

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  • September 2, 2014
  • 05:39 PM
  • 168 views

Supernatural believers see minds at work behind random patterns

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

“Theory of Mind” is the term used to describe the mental ability to put yourself inside the mind of someone else – to imagine what it is that they are thinking. Recently, there’s been some evidence that people who do not have a strong theory of mind are more likely to be atheists. For example, [Read More...]

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  • August 15, 2014
  • 05:20 PM
  • 156 views

Children with a religious upbringing have difficulty telling fantasy from reality

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s a long-standing debate over whether we humans are naturally predisposed to believe in the supernatural, or whether it’s learned. Well, here’s a study that shows the importance of young children’s environment in determining credulity. The basic set-up was simple. Kathleen Corriveau (Boston University) and colleagues recruited 33 kindergarten kids in the USA (that’s 5-6 [Read More...]

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  • August 3, 2014
  • 05:25 PM
  • 117 views

What are the religious disgusted by?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Religious people often seem to have strong taboos. Think of any religion, and there is usually some proscribed activities or objects, and an emphasis on purity. Maybe religion is connected to a heightened sense of disgust? Uri Berger and David Anaki, at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, were looking to see how one questionnaire often used [Read More...]

... Read more »

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