How does the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system help to explain religious prosociality?

Hillary Lenfesty, Thomas G. Fikes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


Human cooperation relies extensively on evolved neurobiological mechanisms of positive affect and social engagement. Nevertheless, current models of religious prosociality–aimed at explaining the role of religion in the evolution of cooperation–are grounded in the fear of supernatural punishment. We propose an expansion of research on religious prosociality to encompass the breadth of physiological adaptations supporting social engagement, and suggest Polyvagal Theory as a methodologically and theoretically useful starting point: measuring variations in heart rate, which reflect underlying autonomic physiology adapted specifically for threat and social engagement, may provide a more comprehensive understanding of the role of religion in the evolution of cooperation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-308
Number of pages4
JournalReligion, Brain and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2017



  • cooperation
  • neurobiology
  • prosociality
  • Social engagement system
  • supernatural punishment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

Cite this