Outsourcing punishment to God: beliefs in divine control reduce earthly punishment.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The sanctioning of norm-transgressors is a necessary--though often costly--task for maintaining a well-functioning society. Prior to effective and reliable secular institutions for punishment, large-scale societies depended on individuals engaging in 'altruistic punishment'--bearing the costs of punishment individually, for the benefit of society. Evolutionary approaches to religion suggest that beliefs in powerful, moralizing Gods, who can distribute rewards and punishments, emerged as a way to augment earthly punishment in large societies that could not effectively monitor norm violations. In five studies, we investigate whether such beliefs in God can replace people's motivation to engage in altruistic punishment, and their support for state-sponsored punishment. Results show that, although religiosity generally predicts higher levels of punishment, the specific belief in powerful, intervening Gods reduces altruistic punishment and support for state-sponsored punishment. Moreover, these effects are specifically owing to differences in people's perceptions that humans are responsible for punishing wrongdoers.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Laurin, K; Shariff, AF; Henrich, J; Kay, AC

Published Date

  • August 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 279 / 1741

Start / End Page

  • 3272 - 3281

PubMed ID

  • 22628465

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3385733

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1471-2954

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0962-8452

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1098/rspb.2012.0615


  • eng