Those who believe in a punishing God are more likely to play fair

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The Daily News offers countless examples of how religion influences behavior, but the specific characteristics people attribute to their gods may be the most important factor in deciding their actions. Belief in an omniscient and punitive god encourages cooperation with strangers, say researchers at the University of British Columbia. In fact, faith in such gods may have been necessary for the development of modern states.

Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of societal complexity has widened considerably while cooperation has also increased. According to the authors, the community agreement, most often stimulated by genetic kinship, reciprocity and mate choice, is expected to weaken, not flourish, as people increasingly deal with fleeting transactions with non-strangers. related in large anonymous groups.

So how did the large-scale cooperation that we see today develop?

For this, we can thank the belief in an omniscient God who will punish us if we do not cooperate and interact fairly within larger social circles, the authors hypothesize.

Mine or yours?

To test this idea, they played a few games with people from all over the world. Specifically, the research team enlisted the help of 591 people from Brazil, Fiji, Mauritius, Siberia, Tanzania and Vanuatu; their religious beliefs included animism, ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. Led by Dr. Benjamin Purzycki, a researcher at the Center for Human Evolution, Cognition, and Culture, the team conducted in-depth interviews before the games began.

To play, an individual participant received money and a two-colored dice. The researchers asked the participant to roll the dice and drop coins into their own jar if a color appeared. However, if the other color appeared, the money was supposed to be placed in a jar for an unknown person who shared their religion in another community. In a second round, the participant had to deposit coins in the cup of a local co-religionist or distant co-religionist. No one watched each participant play the game.

By counting the coins in each jar, the researchers found that participants in both games were more likely to play by the rules and give out more coins to others if they believed in a god who knew about people’s thoughts and behavior and punished for wrongdoing. In comparison, those who believed in a god who rewards good behavior were not so inclined to play fair.

Based on these results, Purzycki and his colleagues argue that religious beliefs may have been a major factor in the development of very complex social organizations. Apparently, the fear of supernatural punishment helps us stay on the right earth path.

Source: Puczycki BG, Apicella C, Atkinson QD, et al. Moralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociability.


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