Transmission of Religious Cognition and Behavior

Learning Via Nonverbal Behavior

How do cross-cultural and within-cultural variations in non-verbal behavior relate to children’s concepts about and belief in natural and supernatural agents and causes?

     An examination of the transmission processes associated with children’s understanding of religion requires systematic study of the nonverbal behaviors transmitted through religious rituals. Children learn important skills and behaviors through the imitation of individuals within their community (Corriveau et al., 2017; Legare, 2017). They learn and adhere to the norms and conventions of their religious community, through a process of social learning (Legare & Nielsen, 2015).

     Children are exposed to religious concepts in contexts where there can be inconsistency between behavior and belief. For example, explicit beliefs about God suggest that God is omniscient, and yet young children are taught from early ages that they must pray to God to communicate their wants and desires to God. This contradictory information becomes incorporated into children’s concepts of God. Richert and colleagues (2016) have found that parents’ beliefs about the ritualized actions of prayer become incorporated into children’s concepts of God, such that parents who believe prayer actions facilitate thinking about God rather than directly communicating with God have a less anthropomorphized concept of God. Children are also sensitive to the extent to which behavior is met with consensus in the community (Chudek, Heller, Birch, & Henrich, 2012; Claidière & Whiten, 2012; Corriveau, Fusaro, & Harris, 2009; Corriveau & Harris, 2010; Clegg & Legare, 2016a; 2016b; Pasquini, Corriveau, Koenig, & Harris, 2007). For example, they disguise their correct opinions in order to conform to a group consensus (Corriveau & Harris, 2010; Corriveau et al., 2013;  Haun & Tomasello, 2011). Indeed, in some recent findings from China, Corriveau and colleagues (Cui et al., in press) have found variability in the impact of parental input in religious belief acquisition depending on the extent to which a claim is met by consensus in the society.


     The Developing Belief Network will document tensions between belief and behavior to explore how religious rituals are transmitted, acquired, and incorporated into religious concepts.  

The Developing Belief Network is funded by The John Templeton Foundation, with additional support from the University of California, Riverside and Boston University, and involves a partnership with Databrary.

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