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

Quentin D. Atkinson*, Pierrick Bourrat

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

85 Citations (Scopus)

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-49
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume32
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

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

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Beliefs about God, the afterlife and morality support the role of supernatural policing in human cooperation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this