Supernatural punishment beliefs as cognitively compelling tools of social control

Léo Fitouchi et Manvir Singh


Why do humans develop beliefs in supernatural entities that punish uncooperative behaviors? Leading hypotheses maintain that these beliefs are widespread because they facilitate cooperation, allowing their groups to outcompete others in intergroup competition. Focusing on within-group interactions, we present a model in which people strategically endorse supernatural punishment beliefs as intuitive tools of social control to manipulate others into cooperating. Others accept these beliefs, meanwhile, because they are made compelling by various cognitive biases: they appear to provide information about why misfortune occurs; they appeal to intuitions about immanent justice; they contain threatening information; and they allow believers to signal their trustworthiness. Explaining supernatural beliefs requires considering both motivations to invest in their endorsement and the reasons others adopt them.

Publié dans

Current Opinion in Psychology, vol. 24, avril 2022, p. 252–257