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God, Nation, or Gender?

An IMC seminar with Kristoffer L. Nielbo, in which he will talk about the effects of religious priming and allocation cost on pro-social behavior in an anonymous economic game.

Info about event


Tuesday 10 December 2013,  at 11:00 - 12:30


Aarhus University, Nobelparken, building 1483, 3rd floor, IMC meeting room



Several studies have shown that priming with religious concepts (e.g., ‘sacred’, ‘divine’, ‘God’) facilitates pro-social behavioral responses in economic games. One study in particular found that God concept primes could change Canadian participants’ modal response from selfish to altruist, irrespectively of religious background (Shariff & Norenzayen 2007).

Social and evolutionary psychology offer two proximate explanations of how religious primes facilitate pro-social behavior. The dominant explanation states that religious primes activate implicit representations of being observed by a supernatural watcher, and that this representation then increases pro-social behavior. The supernatural watcher explanation is closely linked to reputation management models of altruism and assumes that because representations of supernatural moralizing agents are universal, pro-social effects of religious priming are more or less impervious to the cultural context. The alternative explanation is a behavioral priming or ideomotor account. Religious primes, as other cultural primes, activate implicit cultural norms, which increase the likelihood of behaviors consistent with these norms. According to this associative explanation, pro-social effects of religious priming should vary depending on cultural context, because as cultures vary so do religious norms.

Given recent criticism of implicit priming in social psychology (e.g. Kahneman 2012), we ran a series of experiments to test possible effects of religious priming on economic decisions in a Danish student population. Preliminary results indicate that Danes’ default response is more complex than Canadians’, and that religious priming has little if any effect. Gender, on the other hand, seems to influence economic decisions, as well as decision time, considerably.