That was the year that was 2013

That was the year that was 2013 January 9, 2014

Well folks, another year wrapped up. That’s the sixth New Year that this blog has seen in – so thanks to everyone who still keeps coming back to read it! Here’s a wrap up of this year.

One of the highlights for me was the trend towards research conducted outside of the USA and Europe. When I started this blog, just about all research was done on WEIRD ((Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) countries. So generalizing from that to talk about mankind’s religious tendencies was pretty laughale.

But last year saw research on the island of Mauritius, wich  found that people are more likely to be fair and trusting in a if they are seated in a religious location – regardless of their own personal religion.We also learned that, in Burkino Faso, traditional beliefs encourage trust and fair-play in the small-business community.

In Singapore, both Buddhists and Christians are homophobic – suggesting that the link between religion and homophobia is more to do with cultural conservatism than any specific religious ideology.And in both Iran and the USA, religious people have similar personalities: higher in Honesty-Humility, and lower in openness.

Even non-western gods that ostensibly don’t care about moral issues still seem to have an opinion on them when you ask the right questions of believers – although admittedly not to the obsessive levels of the monotheistic gods. So religion may still have pro-social effects even if the gods aren’t explicit about it.

On the psychological biases that lead to religion, we learned that objects that are ‘minimally counterintuitive’ are more memorable in both East and West. Children also find minimally counterintuitive stories more memorable. And both children and adults think that religion occupies a place halfway between facts and opinion.

Intelligent kids are less likely to be religious in later life, and critical thinking also may explain why countries with higher average IQ have fewer religious people.

Paranormal believers are more likely to believe they can see human figures in random moving dots – more evidence that they are a bit hyperactive at ‘agency detection’. But even atheists sometimes see a purpose behind random life events – although with less conviction than believers.

Spirituality is highest in people who have hallucinations – but only if they are generally happy in the first place (presumably, happy people put a positive spin on hallucinations). So what environment is conducive to seeing a ghost, rather than having a religious experience? Ghosts are more often seen when the environment was secluded, dark, quiet, and threatening. Those who had seen ghosts also reported being anxious or upset at the time.

Single women are less religious when they were most fertile, while women in a relationship were more religious.

Another trend for 2013 was the increasing interest in studying atheism in its own right.  While one study found that atheists lack empathy and understanding, another found that atheists get stressed when daring God to do terrible things. Atheists tend to prefer video games over board games – perhaps due to lack of social imagination or perhaps simply reflecting their social preferences.

The non-religious are good tippers in restaurants. But are more likely to tell self-serving white lies.

Faith seems to be a personality trait with broad application. People who have faith in God also have faith in doctors. Faith as a response to stress isn’t limited just to religion. We learned that sportsmen(in this case, Oxford Rowers) increase their confidence in scientific truths as race day approaches.Interestingly, priming with scientific concepts can change people’s moral attitudes.

Religious people, meanwhile, punish those who who are trusting towards strangers and share with them their donuts. They also insist that rules must be followed – even if that results in unfair outcomes. And there was more evidence that their god is their friend: devout prayer uses the same bits of the brain as talking to a loved on.

While religion doesn’t seem to protect people from depression after all, painful, extreme rituals seem to make people more willing to donate to religious institutions.

The attitudes of of Protestant (but not Catholic) Christians can be manipulated subliminally by showing them different images of their god. People reminded of religion become less tolerant of ambiguity – perhaps hinting at why religion and conservative attitudes are often found together.

While Dutch Calvinists are prepared to wait for a larger reward, Catholics are more likely to take the money and run.
And on the sociological level, nations that share a religion – either on an institutional level or at the network level – have significantly greater trade, even after accounting for the other effects (like language). Countries with a state religion also have fewer political and civil freedoms

Well, that’s your lot! If it whet your appetite, try the overview of 2012, 2011, 2010, or 2009.

So here’s to 2014 and another year for Epiphenom! The coming year will see some changes for the blog – there are more great studies than ever, and so to cover them I’m going to start doing a few digest post – covering several studies but in less depth. So let’s see how that goes!

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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