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Computing Religious Devotion: How Reinforcing Supernatural Beliefs Affects Normative Models in the Mind (CREDO)


Religions permeate the lives of billions and are hypothesised to play an essential role in normative behaviour. Yet, little is known about how religious devotion penetrates cognitive computations during decision-making. The CREDO project fills this lacuna by proposing a computational model of religious decision-making. In this model, religious belief, forged through religious practice, forms strong priors in the mind. When the mind simulates possible actions during decision-making, religious actions become readily available and likely selected due to their high value. To empirically develop the model, the CREDO project will determine how religious belief affects the strength of religious priors during normative decision-making in various laboratory and field studies. Moreover, in a large-scale cross-cultural study, the project will establish how beliefs and practices of different religious traditions affect cognitive computations during normative decisions. The goal of the CREDO project is to provide one of a kind, comprehensive model of how religions shape the mind.
CREDO is a five-year project (2024-2028) funded by the Czech Science Foundation.

The project has three specific objectives:

The first objective is to devise a computational model of religious decision-making that will explain how religious devotion may causally affect normative behaviour (WP1). We know very little about how religious devotion may cause normative decisions. There is no formal model on how belief in supernatural agents enters cognitive computations during decision-making. This project will develop a computational cognitive model that will simulate the individual subprocesses of the complex mapping from sensory signals to a behavioural response. The model will combine formal specifications of (1) how are incoming situational inputs processed (e.g., cooperative dilemma) and (2) categorised based on previous experiences and semantic knowledge encoded in memory (e.g., religious prescriptions on cooperative behaviour) to produce (3) a set of weighted actions to select the most rewarding response.

The second objective is to test the computational model against real-world behavioural data and recover parameters allowing behavioural predictions (WP2). Laboratory studies will be designed using relevant, context-specific inputs from anthropological evidence and data from our previous projects. Field studies will incorporate laboratory techniques to collect precise quantitative data from real-world occurring events. The result of these laboratory and field studies will inform the development of the computational model.

The third objective is to explain why religious devotion differentially affects normative decision-making across cultures and religious traditions (WP3). Beyond the temporal variability, the form and intensity of religious devotion also vary geographically. The CREDO project will test the purported causal link between religious devotion and normative behaviour across 20 countries and various religious traditions to account for the interaction between a specific ecology and particular religious teaching. I will work closely with local experts in each country and with their help obtain data on participants’ mental models of norms, rules, and requirements of the particular religious tradition they are affiliated with.

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The Team

WE ARE HIRING! We are looking for a post-doctoral researcher and two PhD students. If you are interested, please get in touch with the PI!

The core team members are two post-doctoral researchers, two PhD students, and a project manager. The team is carefully assembled to represent the various skills needed for the successful implementation of the objectives of the CREDO project: one post-doc is an experienced modeller focusing on the computational models of the human mind, while the other post-doc will be an expert on human social cognition and the various ways we can examine its workings. These post-docs will be paired by two incoming Ph.D. students. The PhD students will be hired for the full course of their PhD with their dissertational research dedicated to the CREDO project.

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