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Belief In A 'Punishing' God Might've Helped Societies Get Bigger

A new study argues people who believe in a punitive higher-power are more cooperative with distant strangers who share the same beliefs.
Posted at 6:27 PM, Feb 12, 2016

A new study argues people who believe in a more punishing god are more cooperative with distant religious peers, compared to those who believe in a less punitive god.

Researchers studied almost 600 people in eight communities across the world. Participants identified with world religions — including Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism — as well as "diverse local traditions."

In the study, published in the journal Nature, participants had to decide what to do with the coins researchers gave them.

Researchers found the more punishing that people believed their god was, the more generous they were to far-away strangers with the same religious beliefs.

Even though people still favored themselves in the coin games, the inclination to give to those who are farther away could help explain some controversial historical patterns.

"As societies got bigger, the gods important to those societies got bigger, too. It might not just be a coincidence that big societies have these big, omniscient, omnipresent gods. But, in fact, that was perhaps necessary for the societies to get large in the first place," Dominic Johnson told Nature.

But as one researcher pointed out, even though religious cooperation led to generosity in this study, it could also lead to more negative outcomes.

This video includes images from Getty Images.