B1 Intermediate US 1708 Folder Collection
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Before I start, I just want to thank the key people involved in this talk. This is Aiyana
Willard. She was a graduate student when I was a graduate student at the University of
British Columbia. If I understand correctly, she’s coming here as a postdoc next year.
Stephanie Kramer’s a graduate student of mine at the University of Oregon, and of course
thank you, Cristine, for organizing this. It’s great so far. Cristine assigned me
this topic [Psychological and social consequences of religious (dis)belief] to talk about. I
wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted, so I changed it to this [Moral consequences of
religious (dis)belief], which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently
and running a number of analyses on. Over dinner, I realized that this was a little
irrelevant to what we’re talking about today, and so I woke up at 5 AM and wrote a new talk.
I’m actually going to go with the first talk, but if anybody’s interested in what
the new talk was about, which was about how stereotypes about Christians being unintelligent
and unscientific end up undermining their interest in science and pushing them out of
the field. That’s another topic I can talk about, either in the question-answer period
or you can come find me afterwards. Today I’m going to talk about this question [“Does
God make you good?], because this question seems like one people are interested in. People
have been interested in it for a very long time. Back in the time of Socrates, we know
at least back then they were debating this question. Twenty-five centuries ago, if we
fast-forward to the tail-end of the Enlightenment, you have common arguments being made. This
is Voltaire. He said, “This sublime system is necessary to man. It is the sacred tie
that binds society, the first foundation of holy equity, the bridle to the wicked, the
hope of the just…if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” We fast-forward
a little further. This is the late great Christopher Hitchens. I like Christopher Hitchens a lot,
but he’s a little off the mark in this statement. So he says, “We keep on being told that
religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is
conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and tat faith causes people to be more
mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.” Now he’s right about this
first bit. We keep hearing about this. But he’s wrong about everything after that.
There is not conclusive evidence about religion making people mean or selfish. There are many,
many anecdotes that you can pull to make that claim. But in terms of there being evidence
for this, there is evidence, it doesn’t lean in that direction, it’s not nearly
conclusive. That’s the topic that I’ve undertaken to try to answer, to try to find
an answer to that question—does God make you good? It’s a nice question, because
you have this nice alliteration between “God” and “good”, and they kind of look like
homographs of each other. It’s also a question that’s fraught with ambiguities. It really
matters what you mean by good, and it matters what you mean by God, and it sort of matters
what you mean by make. Let’s focus on this one right now. I think this is possibly the
most important. You do find that if you’re looking at how religiosity affects how people
act morally, there are systematic differences in between what religious and nonreligious
people think is moral. In particular, one of the recent and popular theories on moral
pluralism has been moral foundations theory, which fractionates our moral concerns into
5 categories. Harm and care, so issues of compassion, issues about suffering. Justice
and fairness, that’s another concern. Concerns about authority, respecting people who are
in authority. Loyalty to the group and purity and disgust—another concern for what’s
moral and what isn’t. If you look at how this varies across the religious spectrum,
you see that the first two there’s agreement on. There’s not much variance in how much
religious people versus nonreligious people believe that this is an important concern.
But on the other 3 is where you see the difference. It’s the difference you’d expect if you’re
familiar with research on political conservatism and moral foundations. These results exist
after you control for political conservatism, and in many cases they’re actually stronger
than the political conservative differences between conservatives and liberals. There
is disagreement on what it is to be moral between these groups. Nonreligious people
also—this is work by Jared Piazza—tend to base their morals on utilitarian consequentialism.
So what are the benefits and costs that happen based on the action that you should or should
not enact. They’ll be more likely than religious people to agree to a statement like this:
Should you break a promise if it may lead to a greater good or prevent further suffering?
They’ll say yes, if it’s going to create greater good, sure let’s do that. Religious
people are going to be much more deontic with this. They’re going to feel that they should
not break the rule, even if the consequence of not breaking the rule is greater suffering.
There are these important foundational meta-ethical differences. But there are areas of agreement.
Those are areas in which we can make direct comparisons. Things like generosity or not
cheating, charity, helping, or volunteerism. These are all situations that are not pitting
2 different moral foundations, say freedom vs. equality or justice vs. mercy, against
each other. Instead you’re pitting selfish behavior against non-selfish behavior, or
what you could call prosociality vs. antisocial selfishness. It’s on this measure, prosociality,
this constellation of moral behaviors that we can actually look at differences across
the religious spectrum. So we conducted a meta-analysis of as many of the studies as
we could find that’s been done on this. We pulled this all together. This includes
31 studies, over about 4 decades, with almost 31,000 participants. We included studies if
they had people reporting their religiosity and if they had some measure, either a self-report
measure or a behavioral measure, of that constellation of moral behaviors that we talked about before—prosociality.
The reason that we split these apart is because there are limits to some of these measures.
So self-report measures, I think most of you guys are going to be familiar with the limitations
of asking people how moral they are. Here’s an example. So this is a common self-report
measure. This is the satisfaction of life scale, and if you say that the conditions
of my life are excellent, that you’re satisfied with your life, I will generally take your
word for that. Imagine if you switched this to the satisfaction with yourself scale, and
then you made a claim that I’m a good mother, I’m not racist, I’m charitable and a moral-abiding
person. Those are situations where maybe I don’t want to take your word as much because
you could be self-inflating. You could be overemphasizing how good you are compared
to how good you actually are. So, we also included behavioral measures, and we made
a distinction between these. Behavioral measures are measures that social psychologists and
experimental economists have concocted to measure actual behavior in which there’s
a direct cost for the participant to actually demonstrate that they are pro-social in this
situation. One of these examples is they create a spontaneous helping situations. Someone
will drop a bunch of papers accidentally, and they’ll see how many participants in
the study actually pick them up. Other examples are economic games. A common one is the Dictator
Game. A lot of you will have heard of this Dictator Game. Basically it’s very simple.
You take 2 participants into your lab room. You put them into separate rooms. They don’t
meet each other, they don’t have reputational concern with each other, and then you give
one of them $10. You give the other one, the receiver, nothing. Then you say to the dictator,
the person who got the $10, you can dictate how much each of you gets. The other person
got nothing; do you want to split the $10 that you have? So you could split it 50-50,
which would be the equitable thing to do since you were both randomly put into these roles.
You could be more selfish. You could only give them $1, or you could do what most people
in the game do, which is to give them nothing and keep the $10 themselves. So these are
examples of behavioral measures. When we put all these together…let me just orient you
to this graph. This is a forest plot of the 31 studies that I was talking about. When
the squares and the lines go towards that side, that indicates that there’s a negative
association between religiosity and pro-social behaviors. So religious people in that study
ended up being less pro-social than the nonreligious people. On the other hand, if it’s passing
that line, that means it’s significantly more pro-social for religious people. There’s
a positive relationship between religiosity and pro-sociality. So what you can see here
is there is small but consistent positive relationship, in terms of pro-sociality with
religious people. If you were to break it down between these self-report measures, these
behavioral measures, there you see a difference. There are the self-report measures. It’s
a correlation of about .2, in terms of the self-report measures—questions about how
much do you volunteer, how much do you give to charity. And if you look at the behavioral
measures, they’re actually 0. There’s no hint of an effect. There’s actually a
substantial difference between what is reported when you’re asked how pro-social you are
and, when you test in the lab, how pro-social religious people actually demonstrate they
are. So there are a couple reasons that could explain this discrepancy, as far as I can
think of. One, is the one that might immediately be most obvious, that the self-reports aren’t
actually accurate. You should trust the behavioral measures over the self-reports. What’s happening
here is that religious people are inflating reports of their actual prosocial behavior.
Everybody tends to inflate these. The expectation is that maybe religious people are fudging
a little bit more than nonreligious people. There’s another explanation, which is that
the behavioral task should not be tested. These are not actually reflective of any real
differences that might exist outside of the lab. There may actually be a pro-social religious
advantage that we’re not tapping into with these artificial tasks that we’re looking
at. I think both of these are true to some degree. Let’s start with the first one.
There has been a bunch of work showing that religious people do score higher on measures
of social desirable responding. They tend to indicate that they’re better than they
actually are, more than do nonreligious people. There have been a couple meta-analyses recently.
This one demonstrated that strongly. It makes the case that religious people tend to be
self-enhancing. This paper actually makes it really interesting argument. If you could
think of the intuitive explanation, the one that may have occurred to you guys is something
like religion might make people more self-enhance. Or there could be some sort of personality
factor that makes you both religious or self-enhancing. These guys argue something separate. They
argue something more like this, that it’s actually self-enhancement, the tendency to
enhance yourself, that makes you more religious. They say that there is something called the
self-enhancing personality and that, and I quote, “people strategically use an ingenious
array of means to satisfy the self-enhancement motive…Religion is a prevalent and important
such aspect. People…will be likely to capitalize on it for satisfying the self-enhancement
motive.” So people who are going to want to aggrandize themselves find a way to do
so in religion. They present a bunch of compelling evidence for that. I’m convinced about this
to some degree. Another point that needs to be taken into account—this is not incompatible
with that—is if you ask people if they’re religious and if you ask them how pro-social
they are, it’s not that they may only be inflating how much they’re pro-social. They
may also be inflating how much they say they are religious. We can’t get super accurate,
implicit measures of what people actually believe, but we can see if people inflate
their religious attendance compared to how much they actually do attend religious services.
So this is a recent study. What they did was they asked people how much they attend, but
they asked people in 2 separate ways. They randomly assigned people to be actually asked
in person; face-to-face to somebody to whom they’re going to have to respond, or online
where you’re not actually talking to anybody. The assumption is that people are actually
going to be more honest when they’re revealing this online, but when they’re confronted
with a person they’re going to hedge a bit. That’s what they found. So when you look
at what people say when asked online, you have about 31% saying that they go weekly
or more. When they’re asked by telephone, that number increases to 36% and the percentage
of people who say they never go actually falls from 43% down to 30%. So they’re less willing
to admit when they’re actually directly talking to somebody “Oh, I don’t go to
church.” There have been a number of studies like this. One of my favorites is from the
90s, where they actually just did a head count of everybody who said they went to church
last Sunday and compared that to actually the number of people who were there. They
did this across the United States. This is for a few of the cities. When you actually
ask people how many of you went to church last Sunday, these are the rates you get.
When you actually count how many people showed up, it’s much lower. In some places, it’s
less than half as much. So people do seem to be inflating their actual religious attendance.
What that means is that when we’re measuring what might be a relationship between religiosity
and prosociality, we might actually be measuring a relationship between your tendency to inflate
how much you go to church and your tendency to inflate how much prosocial behavior you
enact in. So really what you’re doing is you’re just finding that people who fudge
on one thing fudge on the other. I guess that’s interesting. Let’s tackle the other possibility,
that our behavioral tasks are not actually telling us what we want them to be telling
us. Here, I think it’s good to consider the situations in which religious people might
actually in the real world have a prosocial advantage. It’s not in these cold, sterile
lab rooms when that would emerge. It’s when they’re actually enmeshed in the community,
or thinking about their religious beliefs, that are actually getting them to engage in
prosocial behavior. So it doesn’t look so much like this, a cold, sterile lab room,
but more like this. When you’re reminded of religion, when you’re thinking of religion,
that’s the situation religious people might actually be more prosocial. There have been
a number of studies that have recently tried to create that religious situation by reminding
people in the moment of their religiosity, arousing those thoughts and seeing how that
affects their prosocial behavior. It’s used a number of priming techniques. They will
in various ways—explicit, obvious, and implicit—arouse thinking of religiosity in the lab, in the
moment. Field studies have done this with environmental prime. So they’ll do experiments
outside of churches to see how that affects people compared to outside of other buildings.
I’ll just give you 1 example of this. This is an early study that we ran. This used an
implicit priming technique with scrambled sentences. For those of you guys who don’t
know how this implicit priming technique works, basically you get a bunch of sentences or
word scrambles like this. You cross out 1 word, and then you rearrange the remaining
4 words to make a sensical sentence. You change that to “he tied his shoes”. That’s
something you would see in the control condition. In the condition we’re actually trying to
arouse thoughts of religion, you embed keywords in some of the sentences. So here, you can
try this if you want, what would it be? You drop “eradicate” and you can make “she
felt the spirit”. In one of the studies, we’ll talk about this later, in one of the
conditions rather, we included a third condition where we actually instead of priming god,
we primed secular institutions of justice. So they went to court. Then we had them play
the Dictator Game, the anonymous Dictator Game that I mentioned before. These are the
results. This is just comparing in the control condition, non-theists compared to theists.
You see there is a bit of a directional difference, but there’s no significant difference between
these 2, which is consistent with what we found in the meta-analysis. This is a behavioral
task. You don’t see a difference based on religiosity. But our question is what happens
when you put them in the priming situation. Here’s what they found in the first study.
When people are just in the control condition, no religion is aroused, out of $10 people
share on average just under $2 with the other person. So they’re pretty selfish. When
you prime religion, that shoots up almost to that $5 level of equity. In the other condition—this
was with community members who tend to be a little more generous in control conditions
than students—it was still pretty low, and you still saw the same increase. So in this
case you see that religious priming does increase generosity. Now you say, well this is an artificial
task itself in the lab. This is not how people come across religion in their real lives.
I think that we’re actually primed all the time with religion. This is the view out the
window of my apartment in Eugene, Oregon. That’s a church with some hieroglyphics
on it. That’s what I stare at every day when I look out the window. A couple of years
ago, I was teaching at Abu Dhabi, and this was the view outside of my window there. There’s
one mosque, but you can also see another mosque over there and another mosque over there.
So there were 3 mosques that were directly outside of my window. For any of you who have
spent any time in Muslim-majority countries, you’ll know that the most beautiful and
hard-to-ignore reminder of religion is the call to prayer, which goes off 5 times a day
and blared across the entire city. A number of researchers have actually used that call
to prayer as a naturally occurring religious prime and found consistent results with what
we saw. Mark Aveyard, who’s in the UAE, showed that when the call to prayer was playing
in the background, people were less likely to cheat on this task that may be tempting
to cheat on. Eric Duhaime has this unpublished study where he actually went to Morocco, to
Marrakech, and had people play a Dictator Game-type task with shopkeepers there. He
then measured when the call to prayers were going on in the background and when it wasn’t.
What he found was that when it wasn’t happening, the shopkeepers were reasonably likely—about
60% of the time—they engaged in the fully selfless option in the Dictator Game. They
gave all the money to the charitable recipient. When the call to prayer was going, this went
up to 100%. Every single one of the shopkeepers, when that was happening, gave all the money
away. So it had this profound prosocial effect. In America, a couple of economists have actually
looked at a naturally occurring prime in just the day of Sunday. Just it being Sunday to
a lot of people activates religious thinking. What they found was that when you have a website
which is prompting people to give to charity, on Sundays, you have religious people giving
a lot more than nonreligious people. But on every day except Sunday, there is no difference.
And so that’s actually, again, that’s consistent with what we saw before, right?
So when there’s no prime, when you’re just in a control condition, there’s no
difference between religious people and nonreligious people, only when religion is activated do
you see this difference. We ran another meta-analysis where we took 25 of these priming studies.
They had to be assigned to either a control condition or a priming condition, and there
had to be again either a behavioral or self-report measure of prosociality. All but 2 of these
were behavioral measures. So there were 25 studies, just under 5,000 participants. What
you find is that there is this significant effect where priming people with religion
increases their prosocial behavior. Now, a subset of these studies, 11 of them, actually broke
people down between religious people and nonreligious or less religious people. And so you can actually
look at the difference in how these primes affect them. What you find is that the primes
do affect religious people, but they have no effect on nonreligious people, which is
kind of what you expect. There’s this interaction between the religious personality, or the
religious disposition, and the religious situation. This is actually in that study that I mentioned
before; it’s what we found there as well. So if you just look at in the control condition
between our theistic and our non-theistic subjects, in the control condition they again
didn’t differ. When there was the religious prime, you do see that it affects the religious
people, but it does not affect the non-theists in this situation. But you recall that I mentioned
that there was this prime of secular institutions, and you see what happens there is that it
actually increases how much people give in both cases. And so that’s a particularly
effective way of stimulating prosocial behavior. Some of you are probably thinking that this
may explain a question you have in the back of your head, which is that hold on, some
of the least religious places in the world are some of the most cooperative and prosperous
places. I think this gives an explanation as to why. There are these different institutions
that, when they emerge, they can regulate cooperation, they can encourage people to
act prosocially and not cheat, so that religion no longer has to. In a way, these take the
place of those religious institutions that were previously responsible for encouraging
prosociality. I think that’s why if you—this is what you could call a secular alternative
for what was previously done—I think why you see that one of the strongest negative
predictors of religiosity across countries is the presence and trust in these reliable
secular institutions in the rule of law. So you see it’s a very very actually stark
relationship there where, the higher the trust in the rule of law, the less religious you
are. So let’s recap then. Does god make you good? Let’s go back to the original
question. Well yes, you have to admit that it really does, at least temporarily. It acts
in the same way that food acts with satiety. You eat, but then you get hungry again. It
has to be constantly refreshed so as you keep remembering to be pro-social. But do you need
god to be good? The answer here is clearly that no, that’s not the case, so long as
you have something else. There are other routes to pro-social behavior. That’s all I want
to say.
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Psychological and Social Consequences of Religious (Dis)belief

1708 Folder Collection
羅紹桀 published on August 11, 2015
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