Supernatural beliefs are ubiquitous around the world, and mounting evidence indicates that these beliefs partly rely on intuitive, cross-culturally recurrent cognitive processes. Specifically, past research has focused on humans’ intuitive tendency to perceive minds as part of the cognitive foundations of belief in a personified God — an agentic, morally concerned supernatural entity. However, much less is known about belief in karma – another culturally widespread but ostensibly non-agentic supernatural entity reflecting ethical causation across reincarnations. In two studies and four high-powered samples, including mostly-Christian Canadians and mostly-Hindu Indians (Study 1, N = 2006) and mostly-Christian Americans and Singaporean Buddhists (Study 2, N = 1752), we provide the first systematic empirical investigation of the cognitive intuitions underlying various forms of belief in karma. We used path analyses to (1) replicate tests of the previously documented cognitive predictors of belief in God, (2) test whether this same network of variables predicts belief in karma, and (3) examine the relative contributions of cognitive and cultural variables to both sets of beliefs. We found that cognitive tendencies toward intuitive thinking, mentalizing, dualism, and teleological thinking predicted a variety of beliefs about karma—including morally-laden, non-agentic, and agentic conceptualizations—above and beyond the variability explained by cultural learning about karma across cultures. These results provide further evidence for an independent role for both culture and cognition in supporting diverse types of supernatural beliefs in distinct cultural contexts.
White, Cindel J.M.Willard, Aiyana K.Baimel, AdamNorenzayan, Ara
Department of Psychology, Health and Professional Development
Year of publication: 2021Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-12-18
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