Two articles of relevance in Science

Posted on October 10, 2008

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Massimo Pigliucci mentions on his blog a pair of articles of definite interest to me, both of them appearing the the Oct. 3 issue of Science.

The first, “The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality” is by Ara Norenzayan and Azim F. Shariff. It is a review of recent research into the question of whether being religious leads to more prosocial behaviour:

We examine empirical evidence for religious prosociality, the hypothesis that religions facilitate costly behaviors that benefit other people. Although sociological surveys reveal an association between self-reports of religiosity and prosociality, experiments measuring religiosity and actual prosocial behavior suggest that this association emerges primarily in contexts where reputational concerns are heightened. Experimentally induced religious thoughts reduce rates of cheating and increase altruistic behavior among anonymous strangers. Experiments demonstrate an association between apparent profession of religious devotion and greater trust. Cross-cultural evidence suggests an association between the cultural presence of morally concerned deities and large group size in humans. We synthesize converging evidence from various fields for religious prosociality, address its specific boundary conditions, and point to unresolved questions and novel predictions.

The second, “Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception” by Jennifer A. Whitson, Adam D. Galinsky happens to be directly relevant to the topic of one of my next week’s classes. It should be fun to give the students something ‘hot off the presses’:

We present six experiments that tested whether lacking control increases illusory pattern perception, which we define as the identification of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli. Participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing superstitions. Additionally, we demonstrated that increased pattern perception has a motivational basis by measuring the need for structure directly and showing that the causal link between lack of control and illusory pattern perception is reduced by affirming the self. Although these many disparate forms of pattern perception are typically discussed as separate phenomena, the current results suggest that there is a common motive underlying them.

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