Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 83–89 | Cite as

Execution, Violent Punishment and Selection for Religiousness in Medieval England

  • Edward DuttonEmail author
  • Guy Madison
Theoretical Article


Frost and Harpending, Evolutionary Psychology, 13 (2015), have argued that the increasing use of capital punishment across the Middle Ages in Europe altered the genotype, helping to create a less violent and generally more law-abiding population. Developing this insight, we hypothesise that the same system of violent punishments would also have helped to genotypically create a more religious society by indirectly selecting for religiousness, through the execution of men who had not yet sired any offspring. We estimate the selection differential for religiousness based on genetic correlation data for conceivably related traits, and compare that to the actual increase in religiosity across the Middle Ages. We further explore other mechanisms by which religiousness was being selected for in Medieval England, and conclude that executions most likely contributed substantially to the increase in religiosity, but that other selection pressures also played a role.


Religion Selection Execution Medieval 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ulster Institute for Social ResearchLondonUK
  2. 2.University of UmeåUmeåSweden

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