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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Memory and belief for religious content Willard, Aiyana Koka


Past research on the evolutionary origins of religion has looked at content biases as a way to explain the spread of religions in human cultures. Specifically, the memory bias found with minimally counter intuitive (MCI) content has been theorized to be the source of the spread and diversity of religion around the world. This research has paid little attention to how people come to believe in these concepts, and if this is due to a memory bias alone. A debate exists within the literature questioning if content bias is enough to establish belief in religious concepts, or if some other mechanism is required. The following research looks at this question of if the transmission of belief can be driven by a minimally counterintuitive content, or if a separate mechanism is required to make the step from memorability to belief. If minimally counterintuitive content violates our expectations of the world, it should show less belief than intuitive content because of this violation. In the following set of studies participants were presented with different types of MCI and intuitive content and then were asked to recall, and state their belief in, this content. In all of the studies, participants believed in MCI content less. The previously found memory bias was only replicated in one of the three studies. Participants were also given an individual difference measure of anthropomorphism as a way of measuring their propensity to apply MCI concepts to the everyday world. This was done to look at the hypothesis that as these beliefs become common, the preserved unusualness of the minimally counterintuitive violation, and subsequently the memory bias, should decrease. Supporting this, a negative relationship was found between memory for MCI content and the tendency to anthropomorphize. People who regularly anthropomorphize show less of a memory effect than those that do not. Together, these findings suggest that belief is not tied to the content biases and that as people come to see these concepts as a normal part of the world, the memory effects are decreased.

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