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Are Religious Individuals More Generous, Trusting, and Cooperative? An Experimental Test of the Effect of Religion on Prosociality

The Economics of Religion: Anthropological Approaches

ISBN: 978-1-78052-228-9, eISBN: 978-1-78052-229-6

ISSN: 0190-1281

Publication date: 12 December 2011

Abstract

We investigated the effect of religion on generosity, interpersonal trust, and cooperation by using games developed by experimental economists (Dictator, Trust, and Public Goods). In these experiments, individuals were paired or grouped with unknown strangers to test the degree to which religion promotes prosocial behavior. We evaluated group- and individual-level effects of religion on prosocial behavior across the three games. Although playing the games in a religious setting showed no overall difference as compared to a secular setting, we did find a weak association between some individual-level dimensions of religiosity and behavior in some of the games. The weak association between religion and behavior is consistent with theory and empirical studies using similar measures – the anonymous pairing and grouping of the economic games may moderate individual-level effects of religion. Our research is a strong complement to the empirical literature because the three studies involved a large and diverse sample and used sensitive instruments that have been found to reliably measure prosocial behavior.

Citation

Paciotti, B., Richerson, P., Baum, B., Lubell, M., Waring, T., McElreath, R., Efferson, C. and Edsten, E. (2011), "Are Religious Individuals More Generous, Trusting, and Cooperative? An Experimental Test of the Effect of Religion on Prosociality", Obadia, L. and Wood, D.C. (Ed.) The Economics of Religion: Anthropological Approaches (Research in Economic Anthropology, Vol. 31), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 267-305. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0190-1281(2011)0000031014

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited