Implicit and explicit influences of religious cognition on Dictator Game transfers Article

Billingsley, J, Gomes, CM, McCullough, ME. (2018). Implicit and explicit influences of religious cognition on Dictator Game transfers . 5(8), 10.1098/rsos.170238

cited authors

  • Billingsley, J; Gomes, CM; McCullough, ME



  • Does religion promote prosocial behaviour? Despite numerous publications that seem to answer this question affirmatively, divergent results from recent meta-analyses and pre-registered replication efforts suggest that the issue is not yet settled. Uncertainty lingers around (i) whether the effects of religious cognition on prosocial behaviour were obtained through implicit cognitive processes, explicit cognitive processes or both and (ii) whether religious cognition increases generosity only among people disinclined to share with anonymous strangers. Here, we report two experiments designed to address these concerns. In Experiment 1, we sought to replicate Shariff and Norenzayan’s demonstration of the effects of implicit religious priming on Dictator Game transfers to anonymous strangers; unlike Shariff and Norenzayan, however, we used an online environment where anonymity was virtually assured. In Experiment 2, we introduced a ‘taking’ option to allow greater expression of baseline selfishness. In both experiments, we sought to activate religious cognition implicitly and explicitly, and we investigated the possibility that religious priming depends on the extent to which subjects view God as a punishing, authoritarian figure. Results indicated that in both experiments, religious subjects transferred more money on average than did non-religious subjects. Bayesian analyses supported the null hypothesis that implicit religious priming did not increase Dictator Game transfers in either experiment, even among religious subjects. Collectively, the two experiments furnished support for a small but reliable effect of explicit priming, though among religious subjects only. Neither experiment supported the hypothesis that the effect of religious priming depends on viewing God as a punishing figure. Finally, in a meta-analysis of relevant studies, we found that the overall effect of implicit religious priming on Dictator Game transfers was small and did not statistically differ from zero.

publication date

  • August 1, 2018

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


  • 5


  • 8