Latest Updates

  • Can we trust Psychology? Pt. 2
    The beauty of a theoretical mess The last post was a brief overview of the replication crisis. If you haven’t already, check it out here. The gist is that researchers are trying, and failing, to reproduce the results from classic studies in psychology. Over half of the studies tested don’t replicate, which is shaking the … Read more
  • Can we trust Psychology? Pt. 1
    What is the replication crisis and why did it happen? If you haven’t already heard – there’s a replication crisis going on in psychology. At heart of this crisis is the spreading realization that many of the foundational studies that you learned about in your undergrad psych class or read about in the news are … Read more
  • ScienceOnReligion.org 2.0
    Welcome to the newly refurbished ScienceOnReligion.org! The entire site has been revamped for a whole new look. We're excited to be adding new content as well as sharing old favorites from the last decade of news, research updates, insights, and more on the biological and cultural functions of religion. We are also happy to be … Read more
  • Is the media fueling global conflict?
    Journalists don't make the news – they just report it, right? Not so fast. Anthropologist Scott Atran believes that radical Islamic terrorists use the Western media to manipulate attitudes and to create and escalate conflict. He notes that while recent terrorist attacks have resulted in many tragic causalities, with the help of the Western media, … Read more
  • Study finds sadomasochism evokes spiritual experiences
    Religious devotees endure torturous scenarios for the warm embrace of human connection. Some kneel and stand repeatedly to please their priest and fellow congregants. Others fast and chant for days on end to fulfill their guru's program of enlightenment. At the extreme edge of the ritual spectrum, aspirants turn to self-flagellation, scarification, and even ultra-violent … Read more
  • Religion affects our behavior by shaping neural rewards
    If I were to offer you $50 today or the chance to wait four months for $70, which would you take?  The way you answer that question reflects what psychologists call delay discounting.  That's just a fancy term to describe the way value changes over time  – $70 is clearly more than $50, but when that … Read more
  • Thinking analytically, accepting evolution
    It sometimes seems like evolution and religion have had a bad relationship almost from the start. In 1874, the Princeton theologian Charles Hodge asked, “What is Darwinism?” His answer: atheism. To this day, people on both sidesof the issue continue to think that believing in God means not accepting evolution, and vice versa. This antagonism … Read more
  • Psychologists write about “bullshit”
    Anyone who's been to the West Coast or visited hippie towns like Covington, VT or Asheville, NC has undoubtedly heard some version of the New Age spiel. It generally involves “energy work,” “intuition,” and somewhere along the way, “quantum” something gets dropped into the mix – as in “quantum healing,” “quantum intention,” or “quantum intuitive … Read more
  • Is Hindu worship just helicopter parenting?
    Freud famously hypothesized that the Judeo-Christian God is a psychological projection of nagging parental issues. Thomas B. Ellis of Appalachian State University in North Carolina continues this psychoanalytic tradition by explaining the origins and purpose of Hindu puja, or devotional worship, as compensation for emotionally distant parenting. The religious studies professor contends that puja soothes … Read more
  • Ominous moods may improve ritual performance
    To the uninitiated, religious ritual seems like frivolous play-acting. Priests and acolytes follow obscure rules and manipulate symbolic objects, similar to team sports like soccer, or board games like Risk. This connection isn't meant to trivialize the intense subjective meaning of religious rites, but only to point out that both ritual and play are elaborate, … Read more
  • An ambitious theory of humility, compassion, and divine gratitude
    Religiosity is correlated with many different psychological states and behaviors, such as empathy and generosity, or exclusivity and violence. However, the causal connections between belief, experience, and behavior are presently unclear. Psychologists Neal Krause and David Hayward recently completed a seven-year longitudinal study that seeks to tease apart the mental components of a religious life … Read more
  • BREAKING NEWS: Religious children don’t share stickers
    Many people believe that religion teaches children to be just and moral. Even if adherents dispense with the unscientific dogma, there’s a lingering sense that religious tradition is necessary to hold society together. Jean Decety disagrees. The distinguished neuroscientist recently led a worldwide study which, according to his team, shows the opposite is true: kids … Read more
  • Empty nests and empty pews: Church affiliation declines after high school
    Step into any church on Sunday morning and you'll most likely find a congregation split into two distinct groups: parents with their children and cotton-topped old timers. Who's missing here? The young adults. The reasons for this vacuum are still speculative, but the trend is clear, and it appears to ramp up after high school. … Read more
  • Woe unto the weird: Majorities tend to be spiteful
    Bill Moyers once quipped, “Civilization is a thin veneer of agreeable behavior stretched across the passions of the human heart.” Among the most persistent of these dark passions is ingroup favoritism. Christian versus Muslim, black versus white, liberal versus conservative – anywhere one group outnumbers the other, we typically see the minority get snubbed, insulted, … Read more
  • How to win friends through music and religion
    It's your first semester. Campus is crawling with nameless strangers. Totally invisible, you scan the chattering chaos – in a lame attempt to seem undaunted, you gaze down at your smartphone and wonder, “Will anyone like me? Why should I like any of them? How would I even know a real friend if I found … Read more
  • A farewell and reflection on the scientific study of religion
    After five years of working for Science on Religion, my time here is at an end. Over these five years, I have reported on a wide variety of findings and arguments from the field of the scientific study of religion, the field that employs the sciences to study religion. Rather than report on yet another … Read more
  • Review: Rethinking Religion
    In this groundbreaking book, E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley proclaim the birth of the field of cognitive science of religion by presenting a unified cognitive theory of religious ritual action. In their expression of cogitations that had been percolating among cognitive anthropologists, psychologists, and philosophers such as Dan Sperber, Dorothy Holland, and Naomi … Read more
  • The psychological profile of Jesuit applicants
    Jesuits make up an elite order of Catholic priests. Historically known for their keen intellects and wealth of knowledge, the Jesuits play a key role in the Catholic Church. This general observation of the “smartness” of Jesuit priests led psychologists Anthony Kuchan, Michael Wierzbicki, and Mary Anne Siderits (all from Marquette University) to wonder if … Read more
  • Belief in free will correlates with conservatism
    In recent years, the “free will versus determinism” debate has gained great popularity among both philosophers and non-philosophers alike. People want to know, or at least want to hope, that they have control over their own actions rather than are machines. While empirical psychology cannot answer this question directly, Jasmine Carey and Delroy Paulhus (both … Read more
  • Meditation may help mitigate anger towards unfairness
    Buddhists practice meditation in order to cultivate a state of calmness and compassion. Through this mental technique, they train the mind to stay focused and ethical, regardless of what the world throws at them. In theory, then, Buddhist practitioners should display greater levels of compassion and kindness than those who do not practice any sort … Read more