Monday, September 3, 2007

Oh God, Post 2

Article: Thinking About God Leads To Generosity, Study Suggests

Thoughts related to God cultivate cooperative behaviour and generosity, according to University of British Columbia psychology researchers.

It's quite interesting research, clearly describes the experimental and control groups, highlights random assignment, and the description of the commonly used "priming" process makes something often unclear pretty darn clear:

Priming is an experimental procedure used by cognitive and social scientists, mainly in psychology and economics, to obtain indicators of social tendencies by implicitly inducing relevant thoughts. As priming operates largely outside explicit awareness, subjects are unlikely to consciously revise their behaviours...groups were randomly assigned to the religious prime or to the control group. Participants in the religious prime group were given a word game and had to unscramble sentences (using spirit, divine, God, sacred and prophet). Those in the control group were given the same task with non-spiritual words.

The researchers are asking a cause-effect question, which requires experimentation:

This is a twist on an age old question -- does a belief in God influence moral behaviour?

Here's something that interests me. The researchers found that religious primes resulted in moral behavior, but found that secular primes of social justice and civic responsibility affected morality equally:

In the second study the researchers also investigated the strength of the religious prime relative to a secular prime. They used concepts of civic responsibility and social justice to prime subjects (with target words civic, jury, court, police and contract) and obtained almost identical results.

I wonder why the title of the article is all about God, and the results about secular primes are hidden within the article? Really, couldn't they have titled it, "Thinking About Civic Responsibility Leads to Generosity, Study Suggests"?

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