Memory and Belief in the Transmission of Counterintuitive Content
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- Willard, A.K., Henrich, J. & Norenzayan, A. Hum Nat (2016) 27: 221. doi:10.1007/s12110-016-9259-6
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Cognitive scientists have increasingly turned to cultural transmission to explain the widespread nature of religion. One key hypothesis focuses on memory, proposing that that minimally counterintuitive (MCI) content facilitates the transmission of supernatural beliefs. We propose two caveats to this hypothesis. (1) Memory effects decrease as MCI concepts become commonly used, and (2) people do not believe counterintuitive content readily; therefore additional mechanisms are required to get from memory to belief. In experiments 1–3 (n = 283), we examined the relationship between MCI, belief, and memory. We found that increased tendencies to anthropomorphize predicted poorer memory for anthropomorphic-MCI content. MCI content was found less believable than intuitive content, suggesting different mechanisms are required to explain belief. In experiment 4 (n = 70), we examined the non-content-based cultural learning mechanism of credibility-enhancing displays (CREDs) and found that it increased participants’ belief in MCI content, suggesting this type of learning can better explain the transmission of belief.