Psychological Needs Individual Differences and Representations of God

Project: Research project

Project Details


Psychological Needs Individual Differences and Representations of God Motivational Antecedents to Beliefs about God and Moral Character People vary in whether they view God as benevolent, authoritarian, and as an impersonal, cosmic force. We propose that an individual's social motives influence these beliefs. Here we focus on three motives, which we use to develop discrete hypotheses about how they may influence concepts of God: (1) selfprotection, (2) self-expansion, and (3) self-transcendence. We hypothesize that these motives shape concepts of God as authoritarian, benevolent, and cosmic, which, in turn, influence moral concerns and values related to loyalty, benevolence, and universalism. Individual differences in the effects of social motives on God concepts are posited to be moderated by sex, agreeableness, and openness to experience. Using a multi-method approach, we plan both individual and group levels of analyses. First, we will refine several methods for measuring concepts of God, including questionnaires, reaction times to classify adjectives and images as describing God, and multi-dimensional scaling tasks. Then, we will examine whether economic changes in the US economy are related to aggregate shifts in God-concepts and values. We will also use structural equation modeling to investigate linkages between social motives, concepts of God, and values in community samples. Finally, we will experimentally test the causal directions of relations among social motives, God-concepts, and moral concerns and values. The proposed research represents a more nuanced approach to the scientific study of religion and will be important across disciplines, including theology, sociology, social psychology, and the psychology of religion. We plan to publish in top social science journals, and present at international conferences. Ultimately, our goal is to systematically examine how individual differences and social contexts activate fundamental social goals that lead, in turn, to the diverse concepts of God, moral concerns, and values that we observe among religious adherents today.
Effective start/end date8/15/148/14/17


  • John Templeton Foundation: $484,186.00


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