When it comes to explaining the recurrence of cultural forms, group-level naturalness is more important than individual-level naturalness. Building upon Pascal Boyer’s account for the group-level naturalness of religious ideas, Justin Gregory and colleagues provide, in a series of articles, new evidence that slightly or “minimally” counterintuitive concepts are better remembered than fully intuitive ones, but only in young people. Further, adolescents and young adults are more likely to generate ideas that feature minimally counterintuitive concepts. These developmental effects held for both Chinese and British samples. The relative ease of generating and remembering counterintuitive concepts in youth may contribute to the capacity of certain religious ideas, particularly ideas about intentional agents with a counterintuitive tweak or two that makes them inferentially rich, to take hold in a group and become cultural ideas (i.e., ideas that are mentally represented in similar form by the majority of individuals in a group).
- Minimally counterintuitive representations
- Cultural transmission
- Cognitive optimum theory
- Chinese participants
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Atran, S. (2002). In gods we trust: The evolutionary landscape of religion. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Barrett, J. L. (1998). Cognitive constraints on Hindu concepts of the divine. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(4), 608–619.
Barrett, J. L. (2008). Coding and quantifying counterintuitiveness in religious concepts: Theoretical and methodological reflections. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 20(4), 308–338. doi:10.1163/157006808X371806.
Barrett, J. L. (2011). Cognitive science of religion: Looking back, looking forward. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50(2), 229–239. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2011.01564.x.
Barrett, J. L. (2016). The (modest) utility of MCI theory. Religion, Brain, and Behavior, 6(3), 249–251. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2015.1015049.
Barrett, J. L., Burdett, E., & Porter, T. J. (2009). Counterintuitiveness in folktales: Finding the cognitive optimum. The Journal of Cognition and Culture, 9(3), 271–287. doi:10.1163/156770909X12489459066345.
Barrett, J. L., & Keil, F. C. (1996). Anthropomorphism and God concepts: Conceptualizing a non-natural entity. Cognitive Psychology, 31(3), 219–247. doi:10.1006/cogp.1996.0017.
Barrett, J. L., & Nyhof, M. A. (2001). Spreading non-natural concepts: The role of intuitive conceptual structures in memory and transmission of cultural materials. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 1(1), 69–100. doi:10.1163/156853701300063589.
Boyer, P. (1994). The naturalness of religious ideas. A cognitive theory of religion. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Boyer, P. (2001). Religion explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought. New York: Basic Books.
Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behaviour as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(3), 119–124.
Boyer, P., & Ramble, C. (2001). Cognitive templates for religious concepts: Cross-cultural evidence for recall of counter-intuitive representations. Cognitive Science, 25(4), 535–564.
Chilcott, T., & Paloutzian, R. F. (2016). Relations between Gauḍīya Vaișņava, devotional practices and implicit and explicit anthropomorphic reasoning about Kŗșņa. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 16(1–2), 107–121. doi:10.1163/15685373-12342170.
Gonce, L. O., Upal, M. A., Slone, D. J., & Tweney, R. D. (2006). Role of context in the recall of counterintuitive concepts. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 6(3–4), 521–547. doi:10.1163/156853701300063589.
Guthrie, S. E. (1993). Faces in the clouds: A new theory of religion. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gregory, J. P. (2014). Exploring counterintuitiveness: Template – And schema-level effects. Doctoral dissertation. Oxford University, UK.
Gregory, J. P., & Barrett, J. L. (2009). Epistemology and counterintuitiveness: Role and relationship in epidemiology of cultural representations. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 9(3), 289–314. doi:10.1163/156770909X12489459066381.
Gregory, J. P., & Greenway, T. S. (2016). The mnemonic of intuitive ontology violation is not the distinctiveness effect: Evidence from a broad age-spectrum of persons in UK and China during a free-recall task. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 17(3–4), 169–197.
Gregory, J. P., & Greenway, T. S. (2017). Is there a window of opportunity for religiosity? Children and adolescents preferentially recall religious-type cultural representations, but older adults do not. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 7, 98–116. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2016.1196234.
Hornbeck, R. G., & Barrett, J. L. (2013). Refining and testing ‘counterintuitiveness’ in virtual reality: Cross-cultural evidence for recall of counterintuitive representations. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 23(1), 15–28. doi:10.1080/10508619.2013.735192.
Lisdorf, A. (2004). The spread of non-natural concepts: Evidence from the Roman prodigy lists. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 4(1), 151–173. doi:10.1163/156853704323074796.
Norenzayan, A., Atran, S., Faulkner, J., & Schaller, M. (2006). Memory and mystery: The cultural selection of minimally counterintuitive narratives. Cognitive Science, 30(3), 531–553.
Slone, D. J. (2004). Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t. New York: Oxford University Press.
Spelke, E. S., & Kinzler, K. D. (2007). Core knowledge. Developmental Science, 10(1), 89–96. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2007.00569.x.
Sperber, D. (1996). Explaining culture: A naturalistic approach. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Sperber, D., Premack, D., & Premack, A. J. (Eds.). (1995). Causal cognition: A multidisciplinary debate. New York: Oxford University Press.
Tweney, R. D., Upal, M. A., Gonce, L. O., Slone, D. J., & Edwards, K. (2006). The creative structuring of counterintuitive worlds. Journal of Cognition & Culture, 6(3), 483–498. doi:10.1163/156853706778554904.
Upal, M. A., Owsianiecki, L., Slone, D. J., & Tweney, R. (2007). Contextualizing counterintuitiveness: How context affects comprehension and memorability of counterintuitive concepts. Cognitive Science, 31(1), 1–25.
Editors and Affiliations
© 2017 Springer International Publishing AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Barrett, J.L. (2017). Religion Is Kid’s Stuff: Minimally Counterintuitive Concepts Are Better Remembered by Young People. In: Hornbeck, R., Barrett, J., Kang, M. (eds) Religious Cognition in China. New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion , vol 2. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-62954-4_8
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-319-62952-0
Online ISBN: 978-3-319-62954-4