What Does God Know? Supernatural Agents' Access to Socially Strategic and Non-Strategic Information

Benjamin G. Purzycki, Daniel N. Finkel, John Shaver, Nathan Wales, Adam Cohen, Richard Sosis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Current evolutionary and cognitive theories of religion posit that supernatural agent concepts emerge from cognitive systems such as theory of mind and social cognition. Some argue that these concepts evolved to maintain social order by minimizing antisocial behavior. If these theories are correct, then people should process information about supernatural agents' socially strategic knowledge more quickly than non-strategic knowledge. Furthermore, agents' knowledge of immoral and uncooperative social behaviors should be especially accessible to people. To examine these hypotheses, we measured response-times to questions about the knowledge attributed to four different agents-God, Santa Claus, a fictional surveillance government, and omniscient but non-interfering aliens-that vary in their omniscience, moral concern, ability to punish, and how supernatural they are. As anticipated, participants respond more quickly to questions about agents' socially strategic knowledge than non-strategic knowledge, but only when agents are able to punish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)846-869
Number of pages24
JournalCognitive Science
Volume36
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2012

Fingerprint

Theory of Mind
Aptitude
Social Behavior
Religion
Cognition
Reaction Time
Cognitive systems
Deity
Supernatural
Response Time
Government
Cognitive Theory
Omniscience
Fiction
Social Cognition
Cognitive Systems
Surveillance
Social Order
Evolutionary Theory
Theory of Religion

Keywords

  • Cognitive science of religion
  • Socially strategic information
  • Supernatural agents
  • Supernatural punishment
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

Cite this

What Does God Know? Supernatural Agents' Access to Socially Strategic and Non-Strategic Information. / Purzycki, Benjamin G.; Finkel, Daniel N.; Shaver, John; Wales, Nathan; Cohen, Adam; Sosis, Richard.

In: Cognitive Science, Vol. 36, No. 5, 07.2012, p. 846-869.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Purzycki, Benjamin G. ; Finkel, Daniel N. ; Shaver, John ; Wales, Nathan ; Cohen, Adam ; Sosis, Richard. / What Does God Know? Supernatural Agents' Access to Socially Strategic and Non-Strategic Information. In: Cognitive Science. 2012 ; Vol. 36, No. 5. pp. 846-869.
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