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Reasoning about the supernatural : a cross-cultural examination of how and when intuitions shape belief Baimel, Adam Sean

Abstract

The cognitive sciences of religion have theorized that supernatural agent beliefs are shaped by intuitively-supported psychological processes (e.g., teleological thinking, and mentalizing). And, evidence is accumulating that individual differences in reliance on these intuitions is positively related to religious beliefs and that, on the other hand, broad tendencies for questioning them are negatively related to belief. In this dissertation, I build on this literature by providing first tests of several longstanding and some novel theoretical accounts of (1) when and in what ways broad tendencies for questioning intuitions come to predict belief and (2) when and in what ways mentalizing becomes implicated in beliefs. In Chapter 2 (N = 5284 students, Americans and Indians), I examine how and when tendencies for questioning intuitions (i.e., analytical thinking) is associated with belief by testing three theoretical accounts of this relationship. In Chapter 3 (3 studies; N = 2191 students, Christian and Hindu Americans, Indians), I examine how and when intuitions for reasoning about mental states (i.e., mentalizing) come to support belief in god by testing a different set of three theoretical accounts against the evidence. In Chapter 4 (N = 2027 from 14 societies), I examine predictions generated in Chapter 3 regarding the prevalence and correlates of mentalized deity concepts in a sample that spans diverse scales of societal complexity, market integration, and religious traditions. Results demonstrate that deities are increasingly mentalized the more they are moralized (i.e., attributed with moral knowledge and capacities to punish). Throughout, this work demonstrates the necessity of taking theory-testing in the cognitive sciences of religion across cultures and religious traditions. Methodologically, this work takes an individual difference approach and employs high-powered samples. When suitable, statistical mediation analyses are conducted to test the processes by which intuitions relate to belief. Broadly, results are discussed in terms of their contributions to the refining existing accounts of how and when intuitions come to be implicated in religious beliefs across cultures.

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