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      Commentary: Why Do You Believe in God? Relationships between Religious Belief, Analytic Thinking, Mentalizing and Moral Concern

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          Abstract

          Jack et al. (2016) argue that empathizing and religious beliefs are robustly associated and that this connection cannot be explained by socially desirable responding. Interestingly, however, the data Jack et al. obtained can be re-examined to show that socially desirable responding does mediate the relationship between empathizing and frequency of religious practice. This is a very surprising difference between self-reported religious belief and religious practice which could help to locate Jack et al.'s results within the broader discussion as well as having potential significance for future methodology in the area. Jack et al. obtain the key result on the basis of study 8 in their paper, which uses a large sample of responses to questionnaire-based measures of empathizing, religious belief, religious practice, and socially desirable responding. Using the Crowne-Marlowe (Crowne and Marlowe, 1960) measure of socially desirable responding, they are able to show that while empathizing and religious belief are correlated, this correlation is not mediated by either of the sub-measures—attribution and denial—that Crowne and Marlowe identified. Interestingly, by re-examining the data Jack et al. provide, it is possible to see that what is true of religious belief does not hold for religious practice. In that case, the connection with empathizing is mediated by different forms of social desirability. The whole mediated model with standardized coefficients is illustrated in Figure 1. Figure 1 The full mediation model for the relation between religious beliefs, religious attendance, and empathy. Bel, religious beliefs; Frq, frequency of religious practices; Emp, empathy; Des_att, desirability (attribution measure); Des_den, desirability (denial measure). Bolded lines were used to identify significant paths. All path coefficients are standardized. The model shows that when we control for shared variance of two measures of religiosity—religious beliefs and religious practices—the empathic concern is explained directly only by religious beliefs. The total effect of religious practices is mediated via different forms of social desirability. We examined an indirect effect using bootstrapping analyses with 50,000 re-samples to estimate effect sizes as well as their 95% confidence intervals. Bootstrapping analysis confirmed a significant indirect effect of religious practices on empathic concern through the attribution measure of social desirability (standardized estimate = 0.08 [0.02, 0.15]) and through the denial measure of desirability (standardized estimate = 0.04 [0.01, 0.08]). While the additional result goes beyond the focus on religious belief that Jack et al. have, it does help to locate their study in the broader discussion of the relationship between religiosity and prosociality. In a recent review of this literature, Shariff (2015) argues that while religiosity is associated with higher self-reported prosociality, it is not associated with behavioral measures of prosociality. The Jack et al. study, showing a connection between self-reported levels of empathizing and religious belief, seems to be in line with this result. However, this is before the significance of socially desirable responding is taken into account. Shariff thinks that the difference between self-reported and behavioral measures is at least in part due to “a tendency for the religious to be higher in impression management and self-enhancement.” This view also receives support from Sedikides and Gebauer's (2010) review of studies connecting religiosity and socially desirable responding, on the basis of which they conclude that self-reported religiosity is partly due to attempts to self-enhance in the context of societies in which religiosity is viewed positively. Jack et al.'s result that socially desirable responding does not mediate in the relationship between empathizing and religious belief runs counter to those results. At least in this case, impression management and self-enhancement do not appear to play a role in connecting self-reported measures. So, the fact that the data gathered by Jack et al. shows socially desirable responding playing this role in the case of empathizing and frequency of religious practice is particularly interesting. Given that these are two considerations typically taken into account to measure religiosity and that neither Shariff nor Sedikides and Gebauer distinguish between them in their studies, it might be that Jack et al. have happened upon a methodologically important difference. In particular, if their results were to stand up to further scrutiny, it might be that problems with validity of self-reported religiosity could be lessened by asking about religious belief rather than religious practice. This interpretation, however, can only be preliminary due to a couple of problems with Jack et al.'s methodology. By using Mechanical Turk to recruit their subjects from any country, Jack et al. could not control whether those subjects live in countries where Sedikides and Gebauer would expect self-reporting religiosity to be an element of self-enhancement (see also Stavrova and Siegers, 2013 for effect of social enforcement on the religiosity-prosociality connection). Also, they could not control the immediate environment the subjects were in while responding, thereby making it possible the subjects were being primed by religious elements in that environment—something that is known to affect prosocial responding. Author contributions KT: co-wrote the commentary. AW: carried out the statistical analysis and co-wrote the commentary. Conflict of interest statement The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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          A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology.

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            Why Do You Believe in God? Relationships between Religious Belief, Analytic Thinking, Mentalizing and Moral Concern

            Prior work has established that analytic thinking is associated with disbelief in God, whereas religious and spiritual beliefs have been positively linked to social and emotional cognition. However, social and emotional cognition can be subdivided into a number of distinct dimensions, and some work suggests that analytic thinking is in tension with some aspects of social-emotional cognition. This leaves open two questions. First, is belief linked to social and emotional cognition in general, or a specific dimension in particular? Second, does the negative relationship between belief and analytic thinking still hold after relationships with social and emotional cognition are taken into account? We report eight hypothesis-driven studies which examine these questions. These studies are guided by a theoretical model which focuses on the distinct social and emotional processing deficits associated with autism spectrum disorders (mentalizing) and psychopathy (moral concern). To our knowledge no other study has investigated both of these dimensions of social and emotion cognition alongside analytic thinking. We find that religious belief is robustly positively associated with moral concern (4 measures), and that at least part of the negative association between belief and analytic thinking (2 measures) can be explained by a negative correlation between moral concern and analytic thinking. Using nine different measures of mentalizing, we found no evidence of a relationship between mentalizing and religious or spiritual belief. These findings challenge the theoretical view that religious and spiritual beliefs are linked to the perception of agency, and suggest that gender differences in religious belief can be explained by differences in moral concern. These findings are consistent with the opposing domains hypothesis, according to which brain areas associated with moral concern and analytic thinking are in tension.
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              Religious prosociality and morality across cultures: how social enforcement of religion shapes the effects of personal religiosity on prosocial and moral attitudes and behaviors.

              The question of whether religiosity is linked to prosocial behavior is currently hotly debated in psychology. This research contributes to this debate by showing that the nature of individuals' religious orientations and their relationships to prosociality depend on their country's social enforcement of religiosity. Our analyses of data from more than 70 countries indicate that in countries with no social pressure to follow a religion, religious individuals are more likely to endorse an intrinsic religious orientation (Study 1), engage in charity work (Study 2), disapprove of lying in their own interests (Study 3), and are less likely to engage in fraudulent behaviors (Study 4) compared with non-religious individuals. Ironically, in secular contexts, religious individuals are also more likely to condemn certain moral choices than non-religious individuals (Study 2). These effects of religiosity substantially weaken (and ultimately disappear) with increasing national levels of social enforcement of religiosity.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                1664-1078
                25 April 2017
                2017
                : 8
                : 607
                Affiliations
                [1] 1Psychology Faculty, University of Finance and Management Warsaw, Poland
                [2] 2Faculty of Humanities, Nicolaus Copernicus University Torun, Poland
                Author notes

                Edited by: Massimiliano Palmiero, University of L'Aquila, Italy

                Reviewed by: Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University, USA

                *Correspondence: Konrad Talmont-Kaminski k.talmontkaminski@ 123456gmail.com
                Adrian D. Wojcik awojcik@ 123456umk.pl

                This article was submitted to Cognition, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Article
                10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00607
                5403921
                181003b0-0857-4aef-bfaa-c47f37dbe6ca
                Copyright © 2017 Talmont-Kaminski and Wojcik.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                History
                : 09 December 2016
                : 03 April 2017
                Page count
                Figures: 1, Tables: 0, Equations: 0, References: 5, Pages: 3, Words: 1263
                Funding
                Funded by: Narodowe Centrum Nauki 10.13039/501100004281
                Award ID: DEC-2014/15/B/HS6/03738
                Categories
                Psychology
                General Commentary

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                religiosity,empathizing,socially desirable responding,prosociality,psychopathy

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