UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

When does it matter that God is watching? : differential effects of large and small gods on cheating as a function of material insecurity in Yasawa, Fiji McNamara, Rita Anne


Previous work on religion’s potential to suppress behaviours that threaten sustained cooperation is extended to villagers in Yasawa, Fiji. Yasawans’ co-existing Christian (Bible God) and local, deified ancestor spirit (Kalou-vu) beliefs provide comparisons of different kinds of deities’ impact on prosocial behaviour in a small-scale society. If religion promotes prosociality through the threat of supernatural punishment (the ‘supernatural monitor’) in this context, then villagers should cheat less when they believe a deity is more punitive and more when they think the deity is more forgiving. Prosociality was measured in this study using a die rolling game to assess covert cheating in favour of self or in-group vs. out-group. Perceptions of the Bible God and Kalou-vu are as forgiving or punitive significantly predicted cheating as a function of material insecurity. Specifically, perceptions of a punishing Bible God predicted fewer coins to the self or in-group (thus less cheating) when material insecurity was low or at average levels, but more coins (more cheating) when material insecurity was high. Punishing Kalou-vu showed a similar effect that was showed more statistically significant relationships with probable cheating. These effects are more strongly driven by expected food insecurity for years (long-term) to come than by expected insecurity in the coming months (short-term). Additional analysis using perceptions of national secular authority as represented by police showed that a more punishing view of police predicted more cheating, though this effect dropped out of significance when police negativity was considered in separate analyses. This suggests that, unlike urban contexts, secular authority may have little psychological impact on sustaining cooperation in this relatively isolated social context. Further, the results of this study suggest the impact of perceptions about supernatural agents may depend upon both the kind of deity involved and the individual’s sense of resource availability. Implications for the evolution of religion and its place in the evolution of large-scale societies are discussed.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International