When and why do people become atheists? New study uncovers important predictors

Sep 11, 2018

By Derek Beres

In 2009, Joseph Henrich, a professor in the Psychology and Economics departments at the University of British Columbia (now at Harvard), proposed the idea of Credibility Enhancing Displays (CREDs). He was looking for a term to signify people that “convey one mental representation but actually believe something else.” At the very least, he continues, they fudge their level of commitment.

Henrich coined this term to make sense of manipulability, especially in regards to religious belief. While his focus was on cultural learning through evolutionary history, extrapolating to apply CREDs to politics doesn’t tax our imagination. In fact, he argues that CREDs are an essential component of tribalism; they help you identify with a group and strengthen in-group bonds. Throughout history, this would have been a very useful device, yet evolutionary biology didn’t foresee the development of societies containing hundreds of millions of people. Our minds might move a million miles an hour but deeply ingrained habits do not.

To make his case, Henrich turned to ritualized theater, such as firewalking and animal sacrifice. Such costly displays, he writes, “transmit higher levels of belief commitment and thereby promote cooperation and success in intergroup or interinstitution competition.” The more audacious a display, the more likely we’ll buy into what’s being sold, even if the seller is focused more on your purchase than the item itself.

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2 comments on “When and why do people become atheists? New study uncovers important predictors

  • @OP – The more audacious a display, the more likely we’ll buy into what’s being sold, even if the seller is focused more on your purchase than the item itself.

    . . . and as with brexit, payments of tythes, fancy ceremonial dress, or pointless rituals, having invested capital and effort into the wasteful con, many people – especially leaders, who have publically jumped on the band-waggon, will lose face and standing, if they change their position in the light of new evidence, so sit in denial and resisting all efforts to enlighten them.

    We also see this in the wildly inflated claims from the likes of Trump, of sizes of crowds showing support etc., despite photographs or statistics, debunking the claims!
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