Representational coexistence in the God concept: Core knowledge intuitions of God as a person are not revised by Christian theology despite lifelong experience

Michael Barlev, Spencer Mermelstein, Tamsin C. German

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Previous research has shown that in the minds of young adult religious adherents, acquired theology about the extraordinary characteristics of God (e.g., omniscience) coexists with, rather than replaces, an initial concept of God formed by co-option of the person concept. We tested the hypothesis that representational coexistence holds even after extensive experience with Christian theology, as indexed by age. Christian religious adherents ranging in age from 18 to 87 years were asked to evaluate as true or false statements on which core knowledge intuitions about persons and Christian theology about God were consistent (both true or both false) or inconsistent (true on one and false on the other). Results showed, across adulthood, more theological errors in evaluating inconsistent versus consistent statements. Older adults also exhibited slower response times to inconsistent versus consistent statements. These findings show that despite extensive experience, indeed a lifetime of experience for some participants, the Christian theological God concept does not separate from the initial person concept from which it is formed. In fact, behavioral signatures of representational coexistence were not attenuated by experience. We discuss the broader implications of these findings to the acquisition of evolutionarily new concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2330-2338
Number of pages9
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Volume25
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

Keywords

  • Conceptual change
  • Core knowledge
  • God concept
  • Person concept
  • Religious beliefs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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