Beliefs about God, the afterlife and morality support the role of supernatural policing in human cooperation

Quentin D. Atkinson, Pierrick Bourrat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Reputation monitoring and the punishment of cheats are thought to be crucial to the viability and maintenance of human cooperation in large groups of non-kin. However, since the cost of policing moral norms must fall to those in the group, policing is itself a public good subject to exploitation by free riders. Recently, it has been suggested that belief in supernatural monitoring and punishment may discourage individuals from violating established moral norms and so facilitate human cooperation. Here we use cross-cultural survey data from a global sample of 87 countries to show that beliefs about two related sources of supernatural monitoring and punishment - God and the afterlife - independently predict respondents' assessment of the justifiability of a range of moral transgressions. This relationship holds even after controlling for frequency of religious participation, country of origin, religious denomination and level of education. As well as corroborating experimental work, our findings suggest that, across cultural and religious backgrounds, beliefs about the permissibility of moral transgressions are tied to beliefs about supernatural monitoring and punishment, supporting arguments that these beliefs may be important promoters of cooperation in human groups.

LanguageEnglish
Pages41-49
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume32
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

morality
Punishment
transgressive segregation
monitoring
transgression
educational status
Religion
viability
promoter regions
co-operation
Deity
Morality
Supernatural
Afterlife
Education
Costs and Cost Analysis
cost
Monitoring
sampling
norm

Keywords

  • Afterlife
  • Cooperation
  • Prosociality
  • Religion
  • Supernatural beliefs
  • Supernatural monitoring
  • Supernatural punishment

Cite this

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Beliefs about God, the afterlife and morality support the role of supernatural policing in human cooperation. / Atkinson, Quentin D.; Bourrat, Pierrick.

In: Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 1, 01.2011, p. 41-49.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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