Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, Vol 3, No 1 (2015)

Supernatural Agency and Forgiveness

Wieteke Nieuwboer, Hein van Schie, Johan Karremans, Daniël Wigboldus
Issued Date: 25 Apr 2016


The present research examined the hypothesis that supernatural agency attributions underlie the relation between religion and forgiveness. In two experiments a priming procedure was used to make religious concepts temporarily more salient. In Experiment 1, a religion prime marginaly enhanced forgiveness but did not enhance supernatural attributions, compared to a control group. However, correlational support was found for the hypothesis that supernatural attributions were associated with more forgiveness, less punishment and less responsibility of the offender. In Experiment 2, it was attempted to enhance supernatural attributions by first manipulating participants’ sense of control (high vs. low) before presenting a religion prime. As expected, in the low control condition, religious priming enhanced the perceived likelihood that a higher power had an influence on violent situations, and enhanced participants’ forgiveness toward the offenders. Importantly, mediation analysis further supported the existence of a relation between supernatural agency attributions and participants’ ability to forgive.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/jcsr.v3i1.18402


Atran, S., and A. Norenzayan. 2004. “Religion’s evolutionary landscape: Counterintuition, commitment, compassion, communion.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27: 713–770.

Barrett, J. L. 2000. “Exploring the natural foundations of religion.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4: 29–34.

Barrett, J. L. and J. A. Lanman. 2008. “The science of religious beliefs.” Religion 38: 109–124.

Baumard, N. and P. Boyer. 2013. “Explaining moral religions.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17(6): 272–280.

Bering, J. M. 2002a. “The existential theory of mind.” Review of General Psychology 6: 3–24.

Bering, J. M. and T. K. Shackelford. 2004. “The causal role of consciousness: A conceptual addendum to human evolutionary psychology.” Journal of General Psychology 8: 227–248.

Boyer, P. 2003. “Religious thought and behaviour as by-products of brain function.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7: 119–124.

Carlson, P. 2007. “Bearing witness to the Gospel according to Falwell.” The Washington Post.

Corlett, J. A. 2006. “Forgiveness, apology, and retributive punishment.” American Philosophical Quarterly 43(1): 25–42.

Cotton, A. 2012. “Aurora victim released from hospital; says he forgives shooter.” Denver Post.

Dijksterhuis, A., J. Preston, D. M. Wegner and H. Aarts. 2008. “Effects of subliminal priming of self and God on self-attribution of authorship for events.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44(1): 2–9.

Face of Satan in World Trade Center Smoke on 9/11? Urban Legends.

Fincham, F. D. 2000. “The kiss of the porcupines: From attributing responsibility to forgiving.” Personal Relationships 7: 1–23.

Fincham, F. D., F. Paleari and C. Regalia. 2002. “Forgiveness in marriage: The role of relationship quality, attributions, and empathy.” Personal Relationships 9(1): 27–37.

Fisher, M. L. and J. J. Exline. 2006. “Self-forgiveness versus excusing: The roles of remorse, effort, and acceptance of responsibility.” Self and Identity 5(2): 127–146.

Gervais, W. M. 2014. “Good for God? Religious motivation reduces perceived responsibility for and morality of good deeds.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143(4): 1616–1626.

Girard, M. and E. Mullet. 1997. “Forgiveness in adolescents, young, middle-aged, and older adults. Journal of Adult Development 4(4): 209–220.

Gonzales, M. H., J. A. Haugen and D. J. Manning. 1994. “Victims as ‘narrative critics’: Factors influencing rejoinders and evaluative responses to offenders’ accounts.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 20(6), 691–704.

Gray, H. M., K. Gray and D. M. Wegner. 2007. “Dimensions of mind perception.” Science 315(5812): 619–619.

Gray, K. and D. M. Wegner. 2009. ‘‘Moral typecasting: divergent perceptions of moral agents and moral patients.’’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(3): 505.

Gray, K. and D. M. Wegner. 2010. ‘‘Blaming God for our pain: Human suffering and the divine mind.’’ Personality and Social Psychology Review 14: 7–16.

Haggard, P. 2005. ‘‘Conscious intention and motor cognition.’’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9(6): 290–295.

Hamilton, L. 2013. Jerry Newcombe, don’t blame God for Colorado shootings!

Hayes, A. F. 2013. Model Templates for PROCESS for SPSS and SAS [White paper].

Inzlicht, M. and A. M. Tullet. 2010. ‘‘Reflecting on God. Religious primes can reduce neurophysiological response to errors.’’ Psychological Science 21: 1184–1190.

Kay, A. C., D. Gaucher, I. McGregor and K. Nash. 2010. ‘‘Religious belief as compensatory control.’’ Personality and Social Psychology Review 14(1): 37–48.

Kay, A. C., D. Gaucher, J. L. Napier, M. J. Callan and K. Laurin. 2008. ‘‘God and the government: Testing a compensatory control mechanism for the support of external systems.’’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95: 18–35.

Kearns, J. N. and F. D. Fincham. 2004. ‘‘A prototype analysis of forgiveness.’’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 30(7): 838–855.

Kearns, J. N., and F. D. Fincham. 2005. “Victim and perpetrator accounts of interpersonal transgressions: Self-serving or relationship-serving biases?” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 321–333.

Knobe, J. 2003. “Intentional action in folk psychology: An experimental investigation.” Philosophical Psychology, 16(2): 309–324.

Lagnado, D. A. and S. Channon. 2008. ‘‘Judgments of cause and blame: The effects of intentionality and foreseeability.’’ Cognition 108(3): 754–770.

Lang, P. J., M. M. Bradley and B. N. Cuthbert. 2008. ‘‘International affective picture system (IAPS): Affective ratings of pictures and instruction manual.’’ Technical Report A-8. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida.

Laurin, K., A. C. Kay and D. M. Moscovitch. 2008. ‘‘On the belief in God: Towards an understanding of the emotional substrates of compensatory control.’’ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44: 1559–1562.

Laurin, K., A. F. Shariff, J. Henrich and A. C. Kay. 2012. ‘‘Outsourcing punishment to God: beliefs in divine control reduce earthly punishment.’’ Proceedings of the Royal Society B/Biological Sciences 1741: 3272–3281.

McCullough, M. E. and E. L. Worthington Jr. 1999. ‘‘Religion and the forgiving personality.’’ Journal of Personality 67(6): 1141–1164.

McCullough, M. E., E. L. Worthington Jr. and K. C. Rachal. 1997. ‘‘Interpersonal forgiving in close relationships.’’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73: 321–336.

Pargament, K. I. and M. S. Rye. 1998. ‘‘Forgiveness as a method of religious coping.’’ In Dimensions of Forgiveness, edited by E. L. Worthington Jr., 59–78. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press.

Pearson, M. 2012. ‘‘Gunman turns ‘Batman’ screening into real-life ‘horror film’.’’ CNN.

Pinnock, C. H. 1996. ‘‘God’s sovereignty in today’s world.’’ Theology Today 53(1): 15–21.

Preacher, K. J. and A. F. Hayes. 2008. ‘‘Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models.’’ Behavior Research Methods 40: 879–891.

Ruiter, S. and F. Van Tubergen. 2009. ‘‘Religious attendance in cross-national perspective: A multilevel analysis of 60 countries.’’ American Journal of Sociology 115: 863–895.

Rutjens, B. T., J. van der Pligt and F. van Harreveld. 2010. ‘‘Deus or Darwin: Randomness and belief in theories about the origin of life.’’ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46: 1078–1080.

Rye, M. S., Pargament, K. I., Ali, M. A., Beck, G. L., Dorff, E. N., Hallisey, C., et al. (2000). Religious perspectives on forgiveness. In M. E. McCullough, K. I. Pargament, and C. E. Thoresen (Eds.), Forgiveness: Theory, research, and practice, 17–40. New York: Guilford Press.

Sartorio, C. 2007. “Causation and responsibility.” Philosophy Compass, 2(5), 749–765.

Shariff, A. F., and A. Norenzayan. 2011. “Mean gods make good people: Different views of God predict cheating behavior.” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 21: 85–96.

Shariff, A. F., J. D. Greene, J. C. Karremans, J. B. Luguri, C. J. Clark, J. W. Schooler and K. D. Vohs. 2014. ‘‘Free will and punishment. A mechanistic view of human nature reduces retribution.’’ Psychological Science 1: 1–8.

Shoemaker, A., and M. Bolt. 1977. ‘‘The Rokeach Value Survey and perceived Christian values.’’ Journal of Psychology and Theology 5: 139–142.

Sibley, C. G., and J. Bulbulia. 2012. ‘‘Faith after an earthquake: A longitudinal study of religion and perceived health before and after the 2011 Christchurch New Zealand earthquake.’’ PloS ONE 7(12): e49648.

Tangney, J. P., A. L. Boone and R. Dearing. 2005. ‘‘Forgiving the self: Conceptual issues and empirical findings.’’ In Handbook of forgiveness, edited by E. L. Worthington Jr., 143–158. New York: Routledge.

Tsang, J., M. E. McCullough and W. T. Hoyt. 2005. ‘‘Psychometric and rationalization accounts for the religion-forgiveness discrepancy.’’ Journal of Social Issues 61: 785–805.

Webb, M., S. A. Chickering, T. A. Colburn, D. Heisler and S. Call. 2005. ‘‘Religiosity and dispositional forgiveness.’’ Review of Religious Research 46(4): 355–370.

Worthington Jr., E. L. and N. G. Wade. 1999. ‘‘The psychology of unforgiveness and forgiveness and implications for clinical practice.’’ Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 18(4): 385–418.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy