Advertisement

Religion, Empathy, and Cooperation: A Case Study in the Promises and Challenges of Modeling and Simulation

  • John TeehanEmail author
  • F. LeRon Shults
Chapter
Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR, volume 7)

Abstract

The Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) is developing a sophisticated naturalistic account of religion, grounded in empirical research. However, there are limitations to establishing an empirical basis for theories about religion’s role in human evolution. Computer modeling and simulation offers a way to address this experimental constraint. A case study in this approach was conducted on a key theory within CSR that recently has come under serious challenge: the Supernatural Punishment Hypothesis, which posits religion facilitated the shift from small, homogeneous social units to large, complex societies. It has been proposed that incorporating empathy as a proximate mechanism for cooperation into the theory may address these challenges. To test this, we developed a computer simulation that runs iterated cooperation games. To assess the impact of empathy on cooperation, we developed an agent-based model with a baseline for empathetic concern, derived from neuroscientific literature on empathy and cooperation, that could be modulated by signals of religious identity. The results of this simulation may provide important data for an account of religion’s role in human evolution. Results and their implications, for both the theory and the modeling and simulation approach, are discussed.

Keywords

Empathy Cooperation Supernatural punishment Evolution Prisoner’s Dilemma 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors with to thank Justin E. Lane for generously providing time and effort in programming the model and patiently explaining the process as we went along. Without him, this chapter would obviously have not been possible.

References

  1. Alexander, R.D. 1987. The biology of moral systems. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  2. Atkinson, Q., and P. Bourrat. 2011. Beliefs about God, the afterlife and morality support the role of supernatural policing in human cooperation. Evolution and Human Behavior 32: 41–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Avenanti, A., A. Sirigu, and S. Aglioti. 2010. Racial bias reduces empathic sensorimotor resonance with other-race pain. Current Biology 20: 1018–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Axelrod, R., and W.D. Hamilton. 1981. The evolution of cooperation. Science 211: 1390–1396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Balliet, D., and J. Wu. 2014. Ingroup favoritism in cooperation: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 140 (6): 1556–1581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bartal, I.B., J. Decety, and P. Mason. 2011. Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats. Science 334 (6061): 1427–1430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baumard, N., and P. Boyer. 2013. Explaining moral religions. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17: 272–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. ———. 2015. Empirical problems with the notion of “Big Gods” and of prosociality in large societies. Religion, Brain & Behavior 5 (4): 279–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Behrends, A., S. Muller, and I. Dziobek. 2012. Moving in and out of synchrony: A concept for a new intervention fostering empathy through interactional movement and dance. The Arts in Psychotherapy 39: 107–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bering, J., and D. Johnson. 2005. “O Lord … you perceive my thoughts from afar”: Recursiveness and the evolution of supernatural agency. Journal of Cognition and Culture 5: 118–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bruneau, E., and R. Saxe. 2010. Attitudes towards the outgroup are predicted by activity in the precuneus in Arabs and Israelis. NeuroImage 52: 1704–1711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bulbulia, J., and R. Sosis. 2011. Signalling theory and the evolution of religious cooperation. Religion 41 (3): 363–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burke, B., A. Martens, and E. Faucher. 2010. Two decades of terror management theory: A meta-analysis of mortality salience research. Personality and Social Psychology Review 14: 155–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chiao, J.Y., and V.A. Mathur. 2010. Intergroup empathy: How does race affect empathic neural responses? Current Biology 20: 478–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cikara, M., and J. Van Bavel. 2014. The neuroscience of intergroup relations: An integrative review. Perspectives on Psychological Science 9 (3): 245–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cikara, M., M. Botvinick, and S. Fiske. 2011. Us versus them: Social identity shapes neural responses to intergroup competition and harm. Psychological Science 22 (3): 306–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cohen, E., R. Mundry, and S. Kirshner. 2014. Religion, synchrony, and cooperation. Religion, Brain, and Behavior 4: 20–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. De Vignemont, F., and T. Singer. 2006. The empathic brain: How, when and why? Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10 (10).  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2006.08.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Waal, F.B.M. 2012. The antiquity of empathy. Science 336: 874–876.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Decety, J. 2015. The neural pathways, development and functions of empathy. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 3: 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Decety, J., and J. Cowell. 2014. The complex relation between morality and empathy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 18 (7): 337–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fehr, E., and U. Fischbacher. 2003. The nature of human altruism. Nature 425: 785–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fehr, E., and S. Gachter. 2002. Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature 415: 137–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fiske, S.T. 2000. Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination at the seam between the centuries: Evolution, culture, mind, and brain. European Journal of Social Psychology 30: 299–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gore, R., C. Lemos, F.L. Shults, and W.J. Wildman. 2018. Forecasting changes in religiosity and existential security with an agent-based model. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 21: 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Greenberg, J., T. Pyszczynski, L.S. Solomon, A. Rosenblatt, M. Veeder, S. Kirkland, and D. Lyon. 1990. Evidence of terror management theory II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58: 308–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gutsell, J.N., and M. Inzlicht. 2012. Intergroup differences in the sharing of emotive states: Neural evidence of an empathy gap. SCAN 7: 596–603.Google Scholar
  28. Hamilton, W.D. 1964. Genetic evolution of social behavior, I and II. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7: 1–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Han, S., and G. Northoff. 2008. Cultural-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: A transcultural neuroimaging approach. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9: 646–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hein, G., G. Silani, K. Preuschoff, C.D. Batson, and T. Singer. 2010. Neural responses to ingroup and outgroup members’ suffering predict individual differences in costly helping. Neuron 68: 149–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Henry, E., B. Bartholow, and J. Arndt. 2010. Death on the brain: Effects of mortality salience on the neural correlates of ingroup and outgroup categorization. SCAN 5: 77–87.Google Scholar
  32. Irons, W. 2001. Religion as a hard-to-fake sign of commitment. In Evolution and the capacity for commitment, ed. R. Nesse, 290–309. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  33. Johnson, D. 2005. God’s punishment and public goods: A test of the supernatural punishment hypothesis in 186 world cultures. Human Nature 16: 410–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. ———. 2016. God is watching you: How the fear of God makes us human. USA: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. ———. 2018. The wrath of the academics: Criticisms, applications, and extensions of the supernatural punishment hypothesis. Religion, Brain & Behavior 8 (3): 320–350.  https://doi.org/10.1080/215399X.2017.1302986.
  36. Johnson, D., and O. Kruger. 2004. The good of wrath: Supernatural punishment and the evolution of cooperation. Political Theology 5: 159–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Laird, Robert A. 2011. Green-beard effect predicts the evolution of traitorousness in the two-tag Prisoner’s Dilemma. Journal of Theoretical Biology 288: 84–91.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2011.07.023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lane, J.E. 2017. Strengthening the supernatural punishment hypothesis through computer modeling. Religion, Brain & Behavior.  https://doi.org/10.1080/2153599X.2017.1302977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lenfesty, H., and T. Fikes. 2017. From anxiety to neighborliness: Neural and cultural adaptations in the evolution of religious prosociality. Religion, Brain & Behavior.  https://doi.org/10.1080/2153599X.2017.1302982.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Macy, Michael W., and John Skvoretz. 1998. The evolution of trust and cooperation between strangers: A computational model. American Sociological Review 63 (5): 638–660.  https://doi.org/10.2307/2657332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mahajan, N., M. Martinez, N. Gutierrez, G. Diesendruck, M. Banaji, and L. Santos. 2011. The evolution of intergroup bias: Perceptions and attitudes in rhesus macaques. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100 (3): 387–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Marino, L., R.C. Connor, R.E. Fordyce, L.M. Herman, P.R. Hof, L. Lefebvre, D. Lusseau, B. McCowan, E.A. Nimchinsky, A.A. Pack, L. Rendell, J.S. Reidenberg, D. Reiss, M.D. Uhen, E. Van der Gucht, and H. Whitehead. 2007. Cetaceans have complex brains for complex cognition. PLoS Biology 5: e139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mathieu, P., and J.-P. Delahaye. 2017. New winning strategies for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. JASSS 20 (4).  https://doi.org/10.18564/jasss.3517.
  44. McKay, R., C. Efferson, H. Whitehouse, and E. Fehr. 2011. Wrath of God: Religious primes and punishment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278: 1858–1863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ments, Laila, Peter Roelofsma, and Jan Treur. 2018. Modelling the effect of religion on human empathy based on an adaptive temporal–causal network model. Computational Social Networks 5 (1): 1–23.  https://doi.org/10.1186/s40649-017-0049-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Murray, M., and J. Schloss. 2011. Evolutionary accounts of belief in supernatural punishment: A critical review. Religion, Brain & Behavior 1 (1): 46–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nowak, M.A. 2006. Five rules for the evolution of cooperation. Science 314: 1560–1563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Patrzyk, Mateusz P., and M. Takac. 2017. Cooperation via intimidation: An emergent system of mutual threats can maintain social order. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 20 (4): 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Phelps, E.A., K.J. O’Connor, W.A. Cunningham, E.S. Funayama, C.J. Gatenby, J.C. Gore, and M.R. Banaji. 2000. Performance on indirect measures of race evaluation predicts amygdala activation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 12: 729–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Puga-Gonzalez, I., M. Butovskaya, B. Thierry, C.K. Hemelrijk, and S.C. Pratt. 2014. Empathy versus parsimony in understanding post-conflict affiliation in monkeys: Model and empirical data. PLoS One 9 (3).  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Purzycki, B. 2011. Tyvan cher eezi and the socioecological constraints of supernatural agents’ minds. Religion, Brain & Behavior 1 (1): 31–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Purzycki, B., and T. Arakchaa. 2013. Ritual behavior and trust in the Tyva Republic. Current Anthropology 54 (3): 381–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Reddish, P., J. Bulbulia, and R. Fisher. 2014. Does synchrony promote generalized prosociality? Religion, Brain and Behavior 4: 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Richeson, J.A., A.A. Baird, H.L. Gordon, T.F. Heatherton, C.L. Wyland, S. Trawalter, and J.N. Shelton. 2003. An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6: 1323–1328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rossano, M. 2009. The African interregnum: The “where,” “when,” and “why” of the evolution of religion. In The biological evolution of religious mind and behavior, The frontiers collection, ed. E. Voland and W. Schiefenhovel, 127–141. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Shariff, A., and A. Norenzayan. 2007. God is watching you: Priming god concepts increase prosocial behavior in an anonymous economic game. Psychological Science 18: 803–809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. ———. 2011. Mean gods make good people: Different views of god predict cheating behavior. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 21 (2): 85–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shaver, J.H., and J.A. Bulbulia. 2016. Signaling theory and religion. In Mental Religion, 101–117. Farmington Hills: Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks.Google Scholar
  59. Shults, F.L. 2014. Theology after the birth of God: Atheist conceptions in cognition and culture. Radical theologies. Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  60. ———. 2018. Practicing safe sects: Religious reproduction in scientific and philosophical perspective. Brill.Google Scholar
  61. Shults, F.L., J.E. Lane, S. Diallo, C. Lynch, W.J. Wildman, and R. Gore. 2018. Modeling terror management theory: Computer simulations of the impact of mortality salience on religiosity. Religion, Brain & Behavior 8 (1): 77–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Singer, T. 2006. The neuronal basis of empathy and fairness. In Empathy and fairness: Novartis foundation symposium, ed. G. Bock and J. Goode, vol. 278, 20–40. Novartis Foundation.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Singer, T., and O. Klimecki. 2014. Empathy and compassion. Current Biology 24 (18): 875–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Skali, A. 2017. Moralizing gods and armed conflict. Journal of Economic Psychology 63: 184–198.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2017.01.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sosis, R. 2006. Religious behaviors, badges, and bans: Signaling theory and the evolution of religion. In Where God and science meet, ed. P. McNamara. Westport: Praeger Press.Google Scholar
  66. Teehan, J. 2016. Religion and morality: The evolution of the cognitive nexus. In Oxford handbook of evolutionary psychology and religion, ed. James R. Liddle and Todd K. Shackelford.  https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199397747.013.11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Trivers, R. 1971. The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology 46: 35–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Valdesolo, P., and D. DeSteno. 2011. Synchrony and the social tuning of compassion. Emotion 11: 262–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Van Bavel, J.J., D.J. Packer, and W.A. Cunningham. 2008. The neural substrates of ingroup bias. Psychological Science 19: 1131–1139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Watts, J., S.J. Greenhill, Q.D. Atkinson, T.E. Currie, J. Bulbulia, and R.D. Gray. 2015. Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20142556.  https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.2556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Whitehouse, H., and J. Lanman. 2014. The ties that bind us: Ritual, fusion, and identification. Current Anthropology 55 (6): 674–695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wildman, W.J., and R. Sosis. 2011. Stability of groups with costly beliefs and practices. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 14 (3): 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Worden, L., and S.A. Levin. 2007. Evolutionary escape from the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Journal of Theoretical Biology 245 (3): 411–422.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2006.10.011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Xu, X., X. Zuo, X. Wang, and S. Han. 2009. Do you feel my pain? Racial group membership modulates empathic neural responses. Journal of Neuroscience 29: 8525–8529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Xygalatas, D., P. Mitkidis, R. Fischer, P. Reddish, J. Skewes, A. Geertz, Bulbulia Roepstorff, and J. 2013. Extreme rituals promote prosociality. Psychological Science 20 (10): 1–4.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ReligionHofstra UniversityHempsteadUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Global Development and Social PlanningUniversity of AgderKristiansandNorway
  3. 3.Center for Modeling Social SystemsKristiansandNorway

Personalised recommendations