A Perspective on the Unique Psychological Function of Soul Belief
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractSurprisingly little experimental research has explored the psychological function of soul belief given its prevalence. As some have noted (e.g., Rank, 1930/1998), soul belief may have evolved to help individuals cope with existential concerns through promises of literal immortality. The research that has been conducted on the function of literal immortality shows that belief in an afterlife minimizes death-related concerns (Dechesne et al., 2003). I propose two separate hypotheses testing the psychological function of soul belief. Hypothesis 1 states that soul belief should minimize the threat of a death reminder (or mortality salience; MS); this hypothesis was supported in Study 1 where soul believers did not show an increase in death-thought accessibility (DTA) following MS, but low soul believers did show an increase. Hypothesis 2 states that soul belief should also offer protection from threats to symbolic immortality related to the prospect of the end-of-world. Studies 2, 3, 4, and 6 support the reasoning behind this hypothesis. However, Study 5 did not support Hypothesis 2. Considering the data that did support Hypothesis 2, soul believers showed less resistance to end-of-world arguments and also did not show an increase in DTA following such arguments; whereas, low soul believers respond to end-of-world arguments with more resistance and heightened DTA. The discussion focuses on interpretations of these findings and remaining questions.
Degree ProgramGraduate College