Tuesday, November 11, 2014

supernatural punishment, in-group biases, and material insecurity


tandfonline |  Threat of supernatural punishment can promote prosociality in large-scale societies; however, its impact in smaller societies with less powerful deities is less understood. Also, while perceived material insecurity has been associated with increasing religious belief, the relationships between insecurity, supernatural punishment beliefs, and prosocial behavior are unclear. In this study, we explore how material insecurity moderates the supernatural punishment beliefs that promote different expectations about distant, anonymous strangers among a sample of villagers living in Yasawa, Fiji. We examined this relationship by employing an economic game designed to measure local recipient favoritism vs. egalitarian, rule-following behavior. Using indices of three different “punishing” agents – the Christian God (“Bible God”), the deified ancestors (Kalou-vu), and the police – we find that increased belief in Bible God punishment predicts less local recipient favoritism at low and moderate but not high material insecurity. Punishing Kalou-vu also predicts less favoritism at low and moderate insecurity, but more favoritism at high insecurity. Police punishment poorly predicts favoritism, suggesting that secular authority has less impact on isolated communities. We discuss implications for understanding how different kinds of supernatural and secular agent beliefs impact prosocial behavior.