Explaining Death by Tornado: Religiosity and the God-Serving Bias

in Archive for the Psychology of Religion
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



Two self-report experiments examined how religiosity affects attributions made for the outcome of a tornado. Undergraduate students (N = 533) and online adults (N = 537) read a fictional vignette about a tornado that hits a small town in the United States. The townspeople met at church and prayed or prepared emergency shelters for three days before the tornado; either no one died or over 200 people died from the tornado. Participants made attributions of cause to God, prayer, faith, and worship. In both studies, individuals identifying as Christian made more attributions to God, prayer, faith, and worship, but only when no one died; when townspeople died, Christian participants made fewer attributions to God, prayer, faith, and worship (the God-serving bias). Individuals identifying as agnostic or atheist did not show this bias. Directions for future research in terms of implicit religious beliefs and normative evaluations of religion are discussed.

Explaining Death by Tornado: Religiosity and the God-Serving Bias

in Archive for the Psychology of Religion



Abu-RayyaH.Abu-RayyaM. & KhalilM. (2009). The multi-religion identity measure: A new scale for use with diverse religions. Journal of Muslim Mental Health4124-138.

AmiotC. E. & AubinR. M. (2013). Why and how are you attached to your social group? Investigating different forms of social identification. British Journal of Social Psychology52563-586.

AndersonC. A.KrullD. S. & WeinerB. (1996). Explanations: Processes and consequences. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.) Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 271-296). New York: Guilford.

AndersonC. A.LepperM. R. & RossL. (1980). Perseverance of social theories: The role of explanation in the persistence of discredited information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology391037-1049.

BarrettJ. L. (2004). Why would anyone believe in God? Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.

BanajiM. R.NosekB. A. & GreenwaldA. G. (2004). No place for nostalgia in science: A response to Arkes & Tetlock. Psychological Inquiry15279-289.

BatsonC. D. & Raynor-PrinceL. (1983). Religious orientation and complexity of thought about existential concerns. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion22(1) 38-50.

BennettK. (2004). Why did he die? The attributions of cause of death among women widowed in later life. Journal of Health Psychology9345-353.

BettencourtB. & HumeD. (1999). The cognitive contents of social-group identity: Values, emotions, and relationships. European Journal of Social Psychology29113-121.

BowieF. (2006). The anthropology of religion: An introduction (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

BoyerP. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences7119-124.

BroddJ. (2003). World religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press.

BruynellM. (2012). The dangers of modern day belief in the supernatural: International persecution of witches and albinos. Suffolk Transnational Law Review35393.

BuhrmesterM.KwangT. & GoslingS. D. (2011). Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science63-5.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. (2014). Prayer for safety in hurricane season. Retrieved December 27 2016 from https://www.ccdiobr.org/news/186-prayerdisaster.html.

Catholic Review. (2015July). The patron saint of the hurricane season: Praying to St. Medard for protection. Retrieved December 29 2016 from http://www.catholicreview.org/blogs/god-is-in-the-clouds/2015/07/23/a-patron-saint-for-the-hurricane-season-praying-to-st-medard-for-protection.

ChaikenS.LibermanA. & EaglyA. H. (1989). Heuristic and systematic information processing within and beyond the persuasion context. In J. S. Uleman & J. A. Bargh (Eds.) Unintended thought (pp. 212-252). New York: Guilford.

CNN. (2013May). Wolf Blitzer Moore OK tornado. Retrieved January 1 2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOwdwh5o0wA.

CohenG. L. (2003). Party over policy: The dominating impact of group influence on political beliefs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology85808-822.

ColleyC. (2004). The omnipotence of God. Apologetics Press. Retrieved from https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=12&article=1397.

CranoW. D. (1995). Attitude strength and vested interest. In R. E. Petty & J. A. Krosnick (Eds.) Attitude strength: Antecedents and consequences (pp. 131-157). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

CrossF. L. & LivingstoneE. A. (Eds.). (1997). Infallibility. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church (p. 831). New York: Oxford University Press.

CrowneD. P. & MarloweD. (1960). A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology. Journal of Consulting Psychology24349-354.

da RosaM. I.SilvaF. R.SilvaB. R.CostaL. C.BergamoA. M.SilvaN. C.AzevedoR. (2013). A randomized clinical trial on the effects of remote intercessory prayer in the adverse outcomes of pregnancies. Ciencia and Saude Coletiva182379-2384. Retrieved September 15 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23896920.

DabashiH. (2006). Theology of discontent: The ideological foundation of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Livingston, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

DarleyJ. M. & BatsonC. (1973). ‘From Jerusalem to Jericho’: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27100-108.

DeinS. & PargamentK. (2012). On not praying for the return of an amputated limb: Conserving a relationship with God as the primary function of prayer. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic76235-259.

FaberM. D. (2001). The magic of prayer: An introduction to the psychology of faith. Westport, CT: Praeger.

FazioR. H.SanbonmatsuD. M.PowellM. C. & KardesF. R. (1986). On the automatic activation of attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50229-238.

FiskeS. T. (2004). Social beings: A core motives approach to social psychology. New York: Wiley.

FlemingF. & LothianA. (2012). Ancient Egypt’s myths and beliefs. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.

FreyU. (2009). Cognitive foundations of religiosity. In E. Voland & W. Schiefenhövel (Eds.) The biological evolution of religious mind and behavior (pp. 229-241). New York: Springer Science + Business Media.

FurnhamA. (2003). Belief in a just world: Research progress over the past decade. Personality & Individual Differences34795-817.

FurnhamA. & ProctorE. (1989). Belief in a just world: Review and critique of the individual difference literature. British Journal of Social Psychology28365-384.

Gallup. (2011December). Christianity remains dominant religion in the United States. Retrieved August 23 2013 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/151760/christianity-remains-dominantreligion-united-states.aspx.

Gallup. (2015). Percentage of Christians in U.S. drifting down but still high. Retrieved December 24 2016 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/187955/percentage-christians-drifting-down-high.aspx.

GilovichT. D. & GriffinD. W. (2010). Judgment and decision making. In S. T. FiskeD. T. Gilbert & G. Lindzey (Eds.) Handbook of social psychologyVol. 1 (5th ed.) (pp. 542-588). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

GrayK. & WegnerD. M. (2010). Blaming God for our pain: Human suffering and the divine mind. Personality and Social Psychology Review147-16.

GreenwaldA. G.McGheeD. E. & SchwartzJ. L. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit associations test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology741464-1480.

GuentherC. L. & AlickeM. D. (2008). Self-enhancement and belief perseverance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology44706-712.

HeiderF. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.

HeiphetzL.SpelkeE. S. & BanajiM. R. (2013). Patterns of implicit and explicit attitudes in children and adults: Tests in the domain of religion. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General142864-879.

HoggM. A.AdelmanJ. R. & BlaggR. D. (2010). Religion in the face of uncertainty: An uncertainty-identity theory account of religiousness. Personality and Social Psychology Review1472-83.

KayA. C.GaucherD.McGregorI. & NashK. (2010). Religious belief as compensatory control. Personality and Social Psychology Review1437-48.

KelleyJ. & De GraafN. D. (1997). National context, parental socialization, and religious belief: Results from 15 nations. American Sociological Review62(4) 639-659.

KrauseN. (2004). Assessing the relationships among prayer expectancies, race, and self-esteem in late life. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion43395-408.

KrauseN.ChattersL. M.MeltzerT. & MorganD. L. (2000). Using focus groups to explore the nature of prayer in late life. Journal of Aging Studies14191-212.

KruglanskiA. W. (1975). The endogenous-exogenous partition in attribution theory. Psychological Review82387-406.

KundaZ. (1990). The case for motivated reasoning. Psychological Bulletin108480-498.

LawrenceC. (2009). I’m right, you’re dead: Speculations about the roots of fanaticism. In W. K. StritzkeS. LewandowskyD. DenemarkJ. Clare & F. Morgan (Eds.) Terrorism and torture: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 313-324). New York: Cambridge University Press.

LoewenthalK. M. & CornwallN. (1993). Religiosity and perceived control of life events. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion339-45.

LoweS. R.RhodesJ. E. & WatersM. C. (2015). Understanding resilience and other trajectories of psychological distress: A mixed-methods study of low-income mothers who survived Hurricane Katrina. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues34537-550.

LuhrmanT. M. (2013). Making God real and making God good: Some mechanisms through which prayer may contribute to healing. Transcultural Psychiatry50736-743.

LupferM. B.BrockK. F. & DePaolaS. J. (1992). The use of secular and religious attributions to explain everyday behavior. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion31486-503.

LupferM. B.DePaolaS. J.BrockK. F. & ClementL. (1994). Making secular and religious attributions: The availability hypothesis revisited. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion33162-171.

LupferM. B.TolliverD. & JacksonM. (1996). Explaining life-altering occurrences: A test of the ‘God-of-the-gaps’ hypothesis. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 35379-391.

McCulloughM. E.SandageS. J. & WorthingtonE. L. (1997). Charles Williams on interpersonal forgiveness: Theology and therapy. Journal of Psychology and Christianity 14(4) 355-364.

MeffertM. F.ChungS.JoinerA. J.WaksL. & GarstJ. (2006). The effects of negativity and motivated information processing during a political campaign. Journal of Communication5627-51.

MehtaH. (2012). The young atheist’s survival guide: Helping secular students thrive. Englewood, CO: Patheos Press.

MinerM. H. & McKnightJ. J. (1999). Religious attributions: Situational factors and effects on coping. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion38(2) 274-286.

MontellC. (2001). Speculations on a privileged state of cognitive dissonance. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour31119-137.

NickersonR. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology2175-220.

OuelletteJ. A. & WoodW. (1998). Habit and intention in everyday life: The multiple processes by which past behavior predicts future behavior. Psychological Bulletin12454-74.

PargamentK. I.EnsingD. S.FalgoutK.OlsenH.ReillyB.HaitsmaK. & WarrenR. (1990). God help me: Religious coping efforts as predictors of the outcomes to significant negative life events. American Journal of Community Psychology18793-824.

PargamentK. I.KoenigH. G. & PerezL. M. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology56519-543.

RiggioH. R. (2008). Political party, strength of identification, and knowledge and evaluation of Bush v. Gore. Journal of Applied Social Psychology38(1) 234-279.

RiggioH. R.UhaltJ. & MatthiesB. K. (2014). Unanswered prayers: Religiosity and the god-serving bias. Journal of Social Psychology154(6) 491-514.

Science & Religion Today. (2012December 18). Retrieved on March 24 2014 from http://www.scienceandreligiontoday.com/2012/12/18/december-18-2012/.

SedikidesC. & GreenJ. D. (2000). On the self-protective nature of inconsistency-negativity management: Using the person memory paradigm to examine self-referent memory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology79906-922.

SezginU. & PunamäkiR. (2012). Earthquake trauma and causal explanation associating with PTSD and other psychiatric disorders among South East Anatolian women. Journal of Affective Disorders141432-440.

ShaneM. S. & PetersonJ. B. (2004). Self-induced memory distortions and the allocation of processing resources at encoding and retrieval. Cognition and Emotion18533-558.

ShariffA. F. & NorenzayanA. (2011). Mean gods make good people: Different views of God predict cheating behavior. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion2185-96.

SpilkaB. & SchmidtG. (1983). General attribution theory for the psychology of religion: The influence of event-character on attributions to god. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion22326-339.

StaplesC. L. & MaussA. L. (1987). Conversion or commitment? A reassessment of the Snow and Machalek approach to the study of conversion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion26133-147. Retrieved July 22 2013 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1385790.

StarkR. (2008). What Americans really believe. Waco, TX: Baylor University.

StephensN. M.FrybergS. A.MarkusH. R. & HamedaniM. G. (2013). Who explains Hurricane Katrina and the Chilean earthquake as an act of God? The experience of extreme hardship predicts religious meaning-making. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology44606-619.

TajfelH. & TurnerJ. C. (2004). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In J. T. Jost & J. Sidanius (Eds.) Political psychology: Key readings (pp. 276-293). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

TaylorR. (2000). Death and the afterlife: A cultural encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC CLIO.

TurnerM. E.PratkanisA. R. & StruckmanC. K. (2007). Groupthink as social identity maintenance. In A. R. Pratkanis (Ed.) The science of social influence: Advances and future progress (pp. 223-246). New York: Psychology Press.

Van TongerenD. R. & GreenJ. D. (2010). Combating meaninglessness: On the automatic defense of meaning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin361372-1384.

VoasD. (2007). Surveys of behavior, beliefs and affiliation: Micro-quantitative. In J. A. Beckford & N. J. Demerath (Eds.) The Sage handbook of the sociology of religion (pp. 144-166). London: Sage.

WeinerB. (1992). Excuses in everyday interaction. In M. L. McLaughlinM. J. Cody & S. J. Read (Eds.) Explaining one’s self to others: Reason-giving in a social context (pp. 131-146). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

WeinerB. (2012). An attribution theory of motivation. In P. M. Van LangeA. W. Kruglanski & E. Higgins (Eds.) Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol. 1) (pp. 135-155). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

WhitsonJ. A. & GalinskyA. D. (2008). Lacking control increases illusory pattern perception. Science322115-117.

WoolleyJ. D. (2000). The development of beliefs about direct mental—physical causality in imagination, magic, and religion. In K. S. RosengrenC. N. Johnson & P. L. Harris (Eds.) Imagining the impossible: Magical scientific and religious thinking in children (pp. 99-129). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

YoshidaE.PeachJ. M.ZannaM. P. & SpencerS. J. (2012). Not all automatic associations are created equal: How implicit normative evaluations are distinct from implicit attitudes and uniquely predict meaningful behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology48694-706.



Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 32 32 8
Full Text Views 101 101 87
PDF Downloads 5 5 1
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0