Religion vs. the welfare state—the importance of cultural context for religious schematicity and priming


Rosemead School of Psychology

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Prior research, using correlational and self-report methodologies, suggests that religion and public welfare function as alternate security/insurance systems. Consequently, in countries with more expansive public welfare systems people report less religiosity. The present studies expand this field by utilizing experimental methodology and by replicating and extending two previous experiments in both a secular/welfare state context (Sweden) and a religious/nonwelfare state context (the United States). In the first set of experiments, we tested if cognitive access to religious and welfare-related mental schemas differ depending on context. We also tested whether previous findings indicating that people cognitively turn to religion when exposed to threat replicate and extend to the welfare system. In the second set of experiments, we tested whether religious and welfare reminders lead to increased risk taking in these contexts. Our findings show that participants in the secular/welfare state context had lower cognitive access to religious schemas and were less willing to take risks after religious reminders. However, our findings did not replicate those from previous studies; our participants did not have increased cognitive access to religion, nor public welfare, after threat primes. Similarly, our participants were generally not more prone to risk taking after reminders of religion (or public welfare), although such an effect was obtained specifically on high-religious participants. We conclude that cultural context is important to consider when studying psychological functions of religion, and we suggest that the failed replications may be due to cultural, contextual factors. Finally, religious reminders may have contradictory influences on risk taking.


Religion; Public welfare; Attachment; Cross-cultural

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Psychology of Religion and Spirituality





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