Religious Devotion and Extrinsic Religiosity Affect In-group Altruism and Out-group Hostility Oppositely in Rural Jamaica

Abstract

It has been suggested that intergroup conflict has played an important role in the evolution of human cooperation—aggression against out-groups and cooperation with in-groups may be linked in humans. Previous research suggests that religion may help to facilitate this effect, such that those who view religion as a way to achieve non-religious goals (e.g., raise their status) and regularly attend religious services are more likely to hold hostile attitudes towards out-groups, but that measures of religious devotion (e.g., belief in God) are either unrelated or negatively associated with measures of prejudice. Using questionnaires of key variables on a well-studied rural Jamaican population, we analyzed how different aspects of religious belief predict hostility towards other religions and loyalty to one’s own. In support of previous research, our results indicate that hostility towards other religions is positively predicted by extrinsic religiosity (i.e., using religion to achieve non-religious goals: Allport 1954) and attendance at religious services but is negatively predicted by devotion to religious principles. Meanwhile, willingness to sacrifice for one’s own beliefs is positively predicted by religious devotion. These results support the hypothesis that while devotion to religious principles can increase in-group cooperation, the social aspects of religion can generate hostile attitudes towards out-groups.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Emily Lynch for several rounds of comments on the draft; the Biosocial Research Foundation for funding; and Kevin Rosenfield, Anna Latka, and Julie Elyse for administering surveys and collecting data in Jamaica.

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Correspondence to R. Lynch.

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Lynch, R., Palestis, B. & Trivers, R. Religious Devotion and Extrinsic Religiosity Affect In-group Altruism and Out-group Hostility Oppositely in Rural Jamaica. Evolutionary Psychological Science 3, 335–344 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-017-0103-y

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Keywords

  • Extrinsic religious beliefs
  • Intrinsic religious beliefs
  • In-groups
  • Out-groups
  • Parochial altruism