Attributes of God: Conceptual Foundations of a Foundational Belief

Cognitive Science 40 (3):635-670 (2016)
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Anthropomorphism, or the attribution of human properties to nonhuman entities, is often posited as an explanation for the origin and nature of God concepts, but it remains unclear which human properties we tend to attribute to God and under what conditions. In three studies, participants decided whether two types of human properties—psychological properties and physiological properties—could or could not be attributed to God. In Study 1, participants made significantly more psychological attributions than physiological attributions, and the frequency of those attributions was correlated both with participants’ religiosity and with their attribution of abstract, theological properties. In Study 2 and Study 3, participants not only showed the same preference for psychological properties but were also significantly faster, more consistent, and more confident when attributing psychological properties to God than when attributing physiological properties. And when denying properties to God, they showed the reverse pattern—that is, they were slower, less consistent, and less confident when denying psychological properties than when denying physiological properties. These patterns were observed both in a predominantly Christian population and a predominantly Hindu population. Overall, we argue that God is conceptualized not as a person in general but as an agent in particular, attributed a mind by default but attributed a body only upon further consideration



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