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Asian Institute of Research, Journal Publication, Journal Academics, Education Journal, Asian Institute
Asian Institute of Research, Journal Publication, Journal Academics, Education Journal, Asian Institute

Journal of Social and Political


ISSN 2615-3718 (Online)

ISSN 2621-5675 (Print)

asia insitute of research, journal of social and political sciences, jsp, aior, journal publication, humanities journal, social journa
asia insitute of research, journal of social and political sciences, jsp, aior, journal publication, humanities journal, social journa
asia insitute of research, journal of social and political sciences, jsp, aior, journal publication, humanities journal, social journa
asia insitute of research, journal of social and political sciences, jsp, aior, journal publication, humanities journal, social journa
open access

Published: 28 June 2023

Is Fear of Supernatural Punishment the Foundation of Religion? An Examination of Bering’s Theory of Dead Agents

Chong Ho Yu, Juanita Cole, William Whitney

Azusa Pacific University (USA), California State University (USA)

journal of social and political sciences
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Pages: 230-246

Keywords: Cognition, Evolution, Death, Fear, Religion, Moral Foundation


Cognitive psychologist Bering attempted to explain away religion by suggesting that the evolutionary process pre-disposed the human mind to assume a spiritual realm in which dead people continue to keep their consciousness. In Bering’s study participants were asked to rate the characteristics of persons in given photos in two sittings. When the experimenter told the participants that one of the persons in the photo passed away in the second round, the average ratings for that person significantly went up. Bering concluded that higher ratings were a result of participants’ fear of being punished by the dead agent. By replicating this experiment, the authors found that initially the non-religious group gave higher ratings to the dead person than the religious group in the pretest, but the order switched in the posttest. Our study suggests that there might be alternate sources of our belief system, and also there might be alternate explanations for the same phenomenon revealed by the data.


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