Macquarie University
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An experimental exploration of Big Gods: proposing an expansion of supernatural inference

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posted on 2022-03-28, 13:00 authored by Bianca Slocombe
The contribution of perceived supernatural punishment to large-scale cooperation, specifically integral to Norenzayan's Big Gods (2013), remains unresolved. This study aims to deduce the contributing effect of three of Norenzayan's main factors in a perceived cooperative task; religious affiliation, individual versus large-scale interaction, and the threat of punishment versus no punishment. Community and Punishment are manipulated within a population that explicitly denies the existence of God, compared to a population who inherently believes, or does not deny, the existence of God (atheists and non-atheists). The combination of the Community and Punishment conditions is hypothesised to result in the highest levels of prosociality (despite religious affiliation). The effects of Community and Punishment in those who are assumed to rely on non-supernatural institutions as foundations for cooperation (atheists representing a 'pre-religious' population) versus those who are assumed to rely currently on supernatural institutions as foundations for cooperation (non-atheists; agnostic and religious participants, representing a 'peri-religious' population) reveal differential behavioural predictors. Experimental manipulations predict prosociality for atheists, whereas supernatural belief score predicts prosociality for non-atheists. In the absence of targeted religious priming effects, perception of supernatural is not the most compelling explanation of the data. The role of supernatural beliefs in the induction of cooperative schemas is not dismissed, but proposed to exist within methodological, contextual and cultural boundaries of wider inference, encompassing both the supernatural and the secular. The contribution of supernatural belief, by extension, is neither insignifical nor necessary overall.


Alternative Title

(Super)naturalism and Big Gods.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Method -- 3. Results -- 4. Discussion


Bibliography: Pages 73-85 Theoretical thesis. Running title: (Super)naturalism and Big Gods.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Colin Wastell


Copyright Bianca Slocombe 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




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