Religion Spreads Through Actions More Than Words

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There are about 245 million adults in the United States, an estimated 218 million of whom say they believe in God, whomever that may be. It’s proof that while Americans are less religious than they used to be, plenty of people are still keeping the faith. This presents a fascinating social question: How and why does religion transfer between people?

According to a new study in Religion, Brain & Behavior, it’s really a matter of role models. Jonathan Lanman and Michael D. Buhrmester, both at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University in Belfast, found that the more people were exposed to “credibility-enhancing displays,” or CREDs, the higher their religiosity, the more likely they were a theist, and the more certain they were of God’s existence.

A total of 316 participants, all recruited online, took a seven-item CREDs assessment, where they rated on a seven-point scale their answers to questions like “To what extent did your caregiver(s) act fairly to others because their religion taught them so?” and “To what extent did your caregiver(s) live a religiously pure life?” They also took a 20-item measure on “religious emphasis,” for which participants reported how much their caregivers told them it was wrong to sin against a loving God and what the moral do’s and don’ts of religion are, and then finally a quiz on their current religious status.

A full 66 percent of respondents said that they believe in God. People who reported being exposed to lots of CREDs were the most likely to believe in God with a high degree of certainty, and those exposed to few were the most certain about the opposite. And after crunching the numbers, the researchers declared that CREDs exposure accounted for the variance in belief associated with religious emphasis. “[W]hen we put both our measure of general religious socialization (the talking the talk) and our measure of CREDs (the walking the walk) into regression models, the CREDs measure held all of the predictive power,” Lanman told PsyPost. “Actions matter more than words, but the evidence here suggests they matter dramatically more in convincing cultural learners of the existence of God.”

Religion Spreads Through Actions More Than Words