262 posts · 237,031 views
Astute observers will have noticed that there's been something of a crisis in the financial world over the past couple of years. The EU's just coughed up €500 billion in the latest an effort to stem the panic... or, alternatively, to fend off the predators.
And that gets to the heart of the matter. Is the crisis just one of those things - part of a natural economic cycle that is beyond anyone's ability to predict or control? Or is it a result of moral or intellectual failures among those who........ Read more »
Leiser, D., Bourgeois-Gironde, S., & Benita, R. (2010) Human foibles or systemic failure—Lay perceptions of the 2008–2009 financial crisis. Journal of Socio-Economics, 39(2), 132-141. DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2010.02.013
A study out today has shown that marmosets, like humans, can and do act truly altruistically (see refs). Altruism is a hot topic in evolution. True altruism would, on the face of it, reduce an individual's reproductive fitness, and so you might expect that natural selection would weed out any altruists.
As the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy puts it:
... by behaving altruistically an animal reduces its own fitness, so should be at a selective disadvantage vis-à-vis one which behave........ Read more »
Burkart, J., Fehr, E., Efferson, C., & van Schaik, C. (2007) From the Cover: Other-regarding preferences in a non-human primate: Common marmosets provision food altruistically. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(50), 19762-19766. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0710310104
Robert Ingersoll, the seminal 19th century American humanist, famously said that "The way to be happy is to make others so." What he meant was that one of the most important sources of our own happiness is being surrounded by happy people.Now some remarkable new evidence has demonstrated just how the happiness-inducing effect of happiness ripples through society. It turns out that not only does having happy friends makes you happy, but your happiness is bumped up further if your friends' friends........ Read more »
J. H Fowler, & N. A Christakis. (2008) Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ, 337(dec04 2). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a2338
Here's a study that's been reported badly in the press (e.g. Washington Times), because what psychologists mean by the term spirituality is not the same as what ordinary people mean by it. It doesn't mean quite what most people think it does.So when a study reports that children's happiness is linked to their spirituality, it only begs the question 'what do they mean?' And here's where it gets interesting.In the study in question, by Mark Holder and colleagues at the University of British Columb........ Read more »
Mark D. Holder, Ben Coleman, & Judi M. Wallace. (2008) Spirituality, Religiousness, and Happiness in Children Aged 8–12 Years. Journal of Happiness Studies. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-008-9126-1
Paul Harris, a psychologist at Harvard University, is interested in how children learn to differentiate between different kinds of knowledge. In his latest study, he's teamed up with two Spanish psychologists to unpick the beliefs of young, Catholic children.
These 10-12 year olds have a pretty firm conviction in both God and the soul. They also believe (slightly more strongly, in fact) in invisible scientific entities, like oxygen and germs. What the team wanted to know was whether they believ........ Read more »
Guerrero, S., Enesco, I., & Harris, P. (2010) Oxygen and the Soul: Children's Conception of Invisible Entities. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 10(1), 123-151. DOI: 10.1163/156853710X497202
What to to do if someone you know behaves badly? Turn the other cheek, or take your revenge? According to Martin Nowak's latest game-theory based analysis, turning the cheek is the strategy that's most likely to reward you in the long run.Nowak (Professor of Biology and of Mathematics at Harvard University) is interested in something called the repeated prisoner's dilemma, a popular model of social interactions. In the game, you're paired up with another person and have a choice of either co-ope........ Read more »
Hisashi Ohtsuki, Yoh Iwasa, & Martin A. Nowak. (2009) Indirect reciprocity provides only a narrow margin of efficiency for costly punishment. Nature, 457(7225), 79-82. DOI: 10.1038/nature07601
When people pray, what do they think they will get out of it? It's an important but under-researched question, because it sheds an light on the role of religious beliefs in society (as opposed to the role of religion, which is much larger).For example, one of the criticisms that theologians make of The God Delusion is that Dawkins describes God in very concrete terms. This is not the real God, they complain - an entity that they describe in what seems to me painfully abstract and circumlocutory ........ Read more »
Wendy Cadge, & M Daglian. (2008) Blessings, strength, and guidance: Prayer frames in a hospital prayer book☆. Poetics, 36(5-6), 358-373. DOI: 10.1016/j.poetic.2008.06.011
A trait doesn't have to have a direct survival benefit for it to be selected for by evolution. So long as it sends a signal to the opposite sex that you have gametes that are worth getting hold of, your reproductive fitness will increase and the trait will be selected for. It's called the Green-Beard Effect, after the popular description by Dawkins in his 1979 book “The Selfish Gene” (although the idea was first proposed in 1964). All it takes is that the genes that create the signal are lin........ Read more »
This is just a quick follow-up to my previous post, on prayer frequency in different nations as estimated with model using income inequality, GDP, urbanisation, religious diversity and goverment regulation of religion.There's a graph which shows how the model performs versus reality. All the blue blobs are different countries, but not all are labelled.A few people have asked what the values were for individual countries that weren't labelled. Well, here they are! The numbers are on a 7-point sca........ Read more »
Rees, TJ. (2009) Is Personal Insecurity a Cause of Cross-National Differences in the Intensity of Religious Belief?. Journal of Religion and Society. DOI: http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2009/2009-17.html
Over at NCRegister, one Father Thomas Willams is busy telling us how selfish and greedy atheists are. In support, he's dug up the analyses that Arthur Brooks (Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University) did using data from the US Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey. Brooks showed that, after controlling for other factors, people in the US who profess a religion tend to give more to charity than those who don't.On the face of it, these results are a slam dunk. Father........ Read more »
A. Gill, & E. Lundsgaarde. (2004) State Welfare Spending and Religiosity: A Cross-National Analysis. Rationality and Society, 16(4), 399-436. DOI: 10.1177/1043463104046694
An earlier post looked at the connection in the USA between religion and a high teen pregnancy rate. High fertility and religion often goes together, and whenever this topic comes up the immediate question is: will the religious inexorably 'out-breed' the nonreligious?The answer to that rather depends on how religion (or lack of it) is transmitted through the generations. Luckily enough, there's just been a very nice study on this by Vern Bengston, Professor of Sociology at the University of Sou........ Read more »
Bengtson, V., Copen, C., Putney, N., & Silverstein, M. (2009) A Longitudinal Study of the Intergenerational Transmission of Religion. International Sociology, 24(3), 325-345. DOI: 10.1177/0268580909102911
In fact, there is a trend the other way - the less religious a society is, the lower the levels of antisocial behaviour. At least according to a new study out today in Science.... Read more »
The ability to control short term urges in order to achieve long-term goals makes a big difference to what you get out of life. People with high levels of self control forgo cream cakes for healthy food, and opt to study rather than succumb to the temptations of all night raves. As a result, they tend to be healthier, earn more, and live longer.Religious people tend to have higher self control - after adjusting for all the other factors that make religious people different. So here's the big que........ Read more »
Michael E. McCullough, & Brian L. B. Willoughby. (2009) Religion, Self-Regulation, and Self-Control: Associations, Explanations, and Implications. Psychological Bulletin. DOI: http://www.psy.miami.edu/faculty/mmccullough/Papers/Relig_self_control_bulletin.pdf
Apparently there's some sort of election going on over in the US, so here's a topical question: why is it that religion encourages the poor to vote for right-wing parties? By 'right wing' here I mean 'fiscally conservative' - the sorts of parties that are against government social welfare programmes. Now, there are all sorts of arguments for and against wealth redistribution, which I'm not going to get into. But the fact remains - and it's one that's relevant to understanding the US elections - ........ Read more »
A. L. De La O, & J. A. Rodden. (2008) Does Religion Distract the Poor?: Income and Issue Voting Around the World. Comparative Political Studies, 41(4-5), 437-476. DOI: 10.1177/0010414007313114
Most research into religion looks at how it influences attitudes towards co-religionists. But the flip side to religion is that it can also serve as a foundation for social divisions, in a similar way to ethnic and language barriers.
You might think this could increase social tensions, but new research by Don Soo Chon, at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, suggests that this may not be the case. He looked at how the level of ethnic, linguistic, and religious fragmentation relates to hom........ Read more »
Chon, D. (2011) The Impact of Population Heterogeneity and Income Inequality on Homicide Rates: A Cross-National Assessment. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. DOI: 10.1177/0306624X11414813
One of the many newspaper columns published over the weekend was this one, in The Miami Herald, on the alleged beneficial effects of religion. Most of it was drawn from the work of Mike McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami.McCullough's research suggests that religious people of all faiths, by sizable margins, do better in school, live longer, have more satisfying marriages and are generally happier than their nonbelieving peers.Yes well, that's all true enough, but does it justi........ Read more »
Terrence D. Hill, & Michael E. McCullough. (2008) Religious Involvement and the Intoxication Trajectories of Low Income Urban Women. Journal of Drug Issues, 38(3). DOI: http://www2.criminology.fsu.edu/~jdi/journal/2008/hill.pdf
OK, so that's not how this new study is being headlined elsewhere (e.g. Religious Feelings Associated with Women's Lengthier Survival). But that's essentially what it has shown. Here's what they did (see below for a reference to the paper).... Read more »
Eliezer Schnall, Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Charles Swencionis, Vance Zemon, Lesley Tinker, Mary Jo O'Sullivan, Linda Van Horn, & Mimi Goodwin. (2008) The relationship between religion and cardiovascular outcomes and all-cause mortality in the women's health initiative observational study. Psychology , 1-15. DOI: 10.1080/08870440802311322
D MOCHON, M NORTON, & D ARIELY. (2008) Getting off the hedonic treadmill, one step at a time: The impact of regular religious practice and exercise on well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(5), 632-642. DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2007.10.004
The question of nature versus nurture crops up a lot in discussions of religion. Here's a study that came out at the end of last year that took a look at the problem.It's a fairly standard twin study. They took a sample of around 600 identical and non-identical twins from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), and looked at a number of religious characteristics.Basically, their analysis allows them to tease out the variations that are shared by identical twins b........ Read more »
MATT BRADSHAW, & CHRISTOPHER G ELLISON. (2008) Do Genetic Factors Influence Religious Life? Findings from a Behavior Genetic Analysis of Twin Siblings. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 47(4), 529-544. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00425.x
The Indonesian Financial Crisis of 1998 was disastrous for the families caught up in it. The rupiah devalued by 80%, and food prices more than doubled. Worst affected was the price of rice, which rose by 280%.
As a result, the monthly surplus that the average family had to spend on non-food items dropped by two-thirds - from $7.34 to $2.64.
In the period spanning the crisis, the Indonesian Central Statistics Office ran a series of surveys - the Hundred Villages Survey - which followed over 100........ Read more »
Chen, D. (2010) Club Goods and Group Identity: Evidence from Islamic Resurgence during the Indonesian Financial Crisis. Journal of Political Economy, 118(2), 300-354. DOI: 10.1086/652462
Donald Sullins, a sociologist at the Catholic University of America, has shown that (in the USA at least) a lot of the gender difference in religiosity can be explained by social and personality factors (see previous post). But there are a few niggling doubts. How sure can we be that the differences in personality factors (being tender feeling and soft-hearted) aren't also sociologically driven? And what about the remaining, unexplained difference in gender?PersonalityTo deal with the personalit........ Read more »
Schmitt, D., Realo, A., Voracek, M., & Allik, J. (2008) Why can't a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in Big Five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(1), 168-182. DOI: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52
Collett, Jessica L., & Lizardo, Omar. (2009) A Power-Control Theory of Gender and Religiosity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
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