The ability to mentalize has been marked as an important cognitive mechanism enabling belief in supernatural agents. In five studies we cross-culturally investigated the relationship between mentalizing and belief in supernatural agents with large sample sizes (over 67,000 participants in total) and different operationalizations of mentalizing. The relative importance of mentalizing for endorsing supernatural beliefs was directly compared with credibility enhancing displays–the extent to which people observed credible religious acts during their upbringing. We also compared autistic with neurotypical adolescents. The empathy quotient and the autism-spectrum quotient were not predictive of belief in supernatural agents in all countries (i.e., The Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States), although we did observe a curvilinear effect in the United States. We further observed a strong influence of credibility enhancing displays on belief in supernatural agents. These findings highlight the importance of cultural learning for acquiring supernatural beliefs and ask for reconsiderations of the importance of mentalizing.
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This study was funded by a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO: VENI Grant No. 016.135.135).
Maij, David L. R.; van Harreveld, Frenk; Gervais, Will M.; Schrag, Yann; Mohr, Christine; and van Elk, Michiel, "Mentalizing Skills Do Not Differentiate Believers from Non-Believers, but Credibility Enhancing Displays Do" (2017). Psychology Faculty Publications. 138.