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Title: The experimental investigation of religious cognition
Author: Gibson, N. J. S.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2006
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Religious cognition may be defined as the cognitive processes and representational states involved in religion-related knowledge, beliefs and attitudes, behaviours, and experience. Religious content and information processing occurs both at an intellectual, propositional level, and also at an affect-laden, implicational level. Many questions are unanswered in our understanding of religious cognition, but fundamental to them all is the question of how religious cognition can be measured. Psychology of religion has primarily used questionnaires to measure religious belief, but many limitations suggest the need for new methods that can tap into implicational religious cognition, such as God schemas, as well as propositional religious cognition, such as God concepts. The purpose of this investigation was to explore which experimental paradigms most successfully tapped into implicational religious cognition, and thereby add a new set of measurement tools to those available to the psychologist of religion. A consideration of research into the schematic representation of self and other persons suggested multiple hypotheses that could be tested using experimental paradigms adapted from the social cognition and cognition and emotion literatures. I present findings from a series of five experiments that measured cognitive biases in attention, memory, and judgement speed that were hypothesized to result from implicational religious cognition. Two experiments adapted the emotional Stroop paradigm to explore the possibility of a religious Stroop effect. While evangelical Christians, non-evangelical Christians, and atheists did not differ in interference when colour-naming emotionally valent religious material, in a subsequent unexpected recall test evangelicals showed enhanced recall for religious but not control material. Three experiments adapted the self-reference effect paradigm to investigate the accessibility and centrality of God schemas relative to self-schemas. Though evangelical and non-evangelical Christians had relatively similar propositional beliefs about the character of God, the pattern of evangelicals’ speed in making God-referent judgements and subsequent recall of God-referent material suggested that their God schemas were better-elaborated, more efficient, and more affect-laden than those of non-evangelicals. Atheists were able to draw consistently on two different concepts of God, but did so slowly and with poor subsequent recall, indicating that their God schemas were poorly elaborated, inefficient, and affect-free.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available