Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thoughts of randomness enhance supernatural beliefs.

Kay et al. do some interesting experiments in which thoughts of randomness are primed in subject by a set of manipulations. They:

...supraliminally primed half the participants with randomness-related words; the other half were primed with words matched in negative valence. To assess the role of arousal, we employed a misattribution paradigm, which involved requiring all participants to swallow a pill ostensibly containing an herbal supplement. Half the participants were told that the pill sometimes induces arousal as a side effect, and half were told that the pill has no side effects. Previous work has shown that the side-effect condition leads participants to attribute the cause of any experienced arousal to this salient source. Hypothesizing that beliefs in supernatural control function, at least in part, to down-regulate the aversive arousal associated with randomness, we expected the randomness primes to increase beliefs in God, but only for those participants not given the opportunity to attribute the cause of their arousal to the ingested pill.
Their observations were that:
...participants primed with randomness-related words exhibited heightened beliefs in spiritual control compared with participants primed with negatively valenced control words. This effect disappeared when participants were given the opportunity to attribute the cause of any arousal they experienced to a pill ingested earlier in the session. 
They take their data to suggest:
...that belief in supernatural sources of control, such as God and karma, may function, in part, to defend against distress associated with randomness, even when the perception of randomness is not related to traumatic events.

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