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Randomness, Attributions of Arousal, and Belief in God

Author(s): Aaron C. Kay, David A. Moscovitch and Kristin Laurin


Source: Psychological Science, Vol. 21, No. 2 (FEBURUARY 2010), pp. 216-218
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the Association for Psychological Science
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aps I ASSOCIATION FOR
I ASSOCIATION FOR
Snort Report psychological science

Psychological Science
21(2)216-218
Randomness, Attribution The Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission: http://www
and Belief in God .sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: I O.I 177/0956797609357750
http://pss.sagepub.com

(DSAGE

Aaron C. Kay, David A. Moscovitch, and Kristin Laurin


University of Waterloo

Received 5/7/09; Revision accepted 6/17/09

attribute the cause of any experienced arousal to this salient


Beliefs in God, or similar spiritual forces, have permeated every
source (Proulx & Heine, 2008; Zanna & Cooper, 1974).
culture the world has seen, past or present (Atran & Norenza-
yan, 2004). Although there are likely many reasons whyHypothesizing
such that beliefs in supernatural control function, at
least&in part, to down-regulate the aversive arousal associated
beliefs are so strongly held (Kirkpatrick, 1998; Norenzayan
with randomness, we expected the randomness primes to
Hansen, 2006), attempts to cope with perceptions of random-
increase beliefs in God, but only for those participants not
ness may be a key factor. Randomness is presumed to be highly
aversive (Pennebaker & Stone, 2004), and people will given
go tothe opportunity to attribute the cause of their arousal to
the ingested
considerable lengths to reaffirm order in the face of evidence to pill.
the contrary (e.g., by blaming victims of random misfortune or
seeing patterns in random arrays; Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004;
Method
Lerner, 1980; Whitson & Galinsky, 2008; also see Heine,
Thirty-seven undergraduates (62% female; mean age = 19
Proulx, & Vohs, 2006). Affirming the existence of a controlling
years; 35% Caucasian, 35% Asian, 8% East Indian, 5% Afri-
God, therefore, may provide an excellent means for insulating
oneself from the aversive arousal associated with randomness.
can Canadian, 5% Middle Eastern, 11% unspecified) regis-
tered for an experiment concerning "effects of an herbal
However, no experimental test of this hypothesis exists.
Park (2005) has suggested that traumatic events cansupplement on color perception." Upon arrival, participants
strengthen belief in God because of the threat they pose to read a brochure about the product. Half read that, according to
nonrandomness, but this correlational research (also see Lau-federal testing, it has no side effects, and half read that it has a
rin, Kay, & Moscovitch, 2008) focused only on negative single side effect, "mild arousal or anxiety." This information
was also conveyed orally. Participants then swallowed a pill
events and assumed (rather than directly assessed) the role of
randomness. Some research has manipulated self-conceptions that supposedly contained the supplement (but actually con-
tained inert microcrystalline cellulose).
that may be related to preserving beliefs in order (e.g., Kay,
Gaucher, Napier, Callan, & Laurin, 2008; McGregor, Haji, While "waiting for the compound to metabolize," partici-
Nash, & Teper, 2008), but none has investigated randomness pants completed some questionnaires that were supposedly
directly, and none, crucially, has assessed the role of arousal unrelated
in to the experiment. The priming manipulation, com-
generating between-condition differences in belief in God. pleted first, required unscrambling each of 16 five-word sets
In this study, we employed a novel paradigm to test (a) to create a four- word sentence. For half the participants, eight
whether direct manipulations designed to prime thoughts words of in these sets were related to randomness (e.g., "chance,"
randomness cause increased beliefs in supernatural sources of "random"). For the other half, these randomness primes were
replaced with negatively valenced control words (e.g.,
control (even when controlling for negative valence) and (b)
whether this effect is due to arousal generated by thoughts "poorly,"
of "slimy"; i.e., negativity primes; see Bradley &
randomness. To heighten thoughts of randomness, we supra- Lange, 1999). (Table SI in the Supplemental Material avail-
able on-line contains the full set of stimuli.)
liminally primed half the participants with randomness-related
words; the other half were primed with words matched in nega- Next, three items assessed beliefs in supernatural sources
of control: Two measured belief that the universe is controlled
tive valence. To assess the role of arousal, we employed a mis-
by God or a similar nonhuman entity, and one measured belief
attribution paradigm (Zanna, & Cooper, 1974), which involved
requiring all participants to swallow a pill ostensibly contain-
ing an herbal supplement. Half the participants were told that
Corresponding Author:
the pill sometimes induces arousal as a side effect, and half Aaron C. Kay, University of Waterloo, Department of Psychology, 200
were told that the pill has no side effects. Previous work hasUniversity Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G I
shown that the side-effect condition leads participants E-mail:
to ackay@uwaterloo.ca

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Randomness, Attributions of Arousal, and Belief in God 2 1 7

control words. This


that the universe is governed by a supernatural effectsuch
order, disappeared
as when participant
karma. (See Table S2 in the Supplemental Material
given the available
opportunity on-the cause of any arousa
to attribute
line for the exact wording of theseexperienced to a pill ingested
items.) Responses earlier in the session. The
to each
suggestfrom
item were made on a 7-point scale (ranging that belief in supernatural sources of control, s
1 , tremendously
God
doubtful, to 7, very likely), and scores and karma,
were may to
averaged function,
create in
a part, to defend again
tress control
single measure of belief in supernatural associated (a
with randomness, even when the percep
= .80).
randomness is not No
We then employed a tunneled debriefing. relatedparticipants
to traumatic events.

noted any suspicion regarding the priming stimuli, the pill's


Declaration of
ingredients, or the purpose of the experiment. Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interests with
respect to their authorship and/or the publication of this article.
Results

An omnibus two-way analysis of variance revealed the Supplemental


pre- Material
dicted interaction between the priming and misattribution
Additional supporting information may be found at http://pss.sagepub
.com/content/by/supplemental-data
manipulations, F(l, 33) = 5.54, p < .03, r|p2 = .14 (see Table 1).
In the no-misattribution condition, the randomness primes led
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