Religious cognition down-regulates sexually selected, characteristically male behaviors in men, but not in women

Michael McCullough, Evan C. Carter, C. Nathan DeWall, Carolina M. Corrales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Men are typically stronger, riskier, "showier," and more impulsive than women. According to sexual selection theory, such behaviors may have enhanced reproductive fitness for ancestral human males. However, such behaviors are facultative, and the mechanisms that cause them respond to social and environmental cues that indicate whether outlays of strength, risk-taking, showing off, or impulsivity are likely to lead to payoffs in any given instance. Recent research based on the Reproductive Religiosity Model suggests that, in contemporary Western societies, religious beliefs and institutions are differentially espoused and promulgated by restricted sexual strategists (whose reproductive strategies focus on high fertility, monogamy, and high parental care) to limit the exercise of unrestricted sexuality, which threatens the viability of restricted sexual strategies (e.g., by reducing paternity certainty and male parental investment). On this basis, we hypothesized that experimental manipulations of religious cognition would reduce men's impulsivity and motivation to demonstrate their physical prowess. Supporting this hypothesis, three experiments revealed that priming participants with religious concepts (i.e., participants wrote essays about religion, read an essay supporting the existence of an afterlife, or were implicitly exposed to religious words) reduced men's (but not women's) impulsivity with money and their physical endurance on a hand grip task. The primes affected men's behaviors irrespectively of men's scores on a self-report measure of religious commitment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-568
Number of pages7
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume33
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012

Fingerprint

male behavior
cognition
Cognition
facultative behavior
Down-Regulation
Impulsive Behavior
monogamy
parental investment
environmental cue
sexuality
parental care
paternity
religion
sexual selection
reproductive strategy
Religion
fertility
viability
fitness
Physical Endurance

Keywords

  • Discounting
  • Evolution
  • Impulsivity
  • Physical strength
  • Religion
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

Cite this

Religious cognition down-regulates sexually selected, characteristically male behaviors in men, but not in women. / McCullough, Michael; Carter, Evan C.; DeWall, C. Nathan; Corrales, Carolina M.

In: Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 33, No. 5, 01.09.2012, p. 562-568.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

McCullough, Michael ; Carter, Evan C. ; DeWall, C. Nathan ; Corrales, Carolina M. / Religious cognition down-regulates sexually selected, characteristically male behaviors in men, but not in women. In: Evolution and Human Behavior. 2012 ; Vol. 33, No. 5. pp. 562-568.
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