The (possible) Cognitive Naturalness of Witchcraft Beliefs: An Exploration of the Existing Literature

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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.



Help

Have Institutional Access?



Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



Connect

Abstract

Cross-culturally, misfortune is often attributed to witchcraft despite the high human and social costs of these beliefs. The evolved cognitive features that are often used to explain religion more broadly, in combination with threat perception and coalitional psychology, may help explain why these particular supernatural beliefs are so prevalent. Witches are minimally counter intuitive, agentic, and build upon intuitive understandings of ritual efficacy. Witchcraft beliefs may gain traction in threatening contexts and because they are threatening themselves, while simultaneously activating coalitional reasoning systems that make rejection of the idea costly. This article draws possible connections between these cognitive and environmental features with an eye toward future empirical examination.

Sections

References

Adinkrah, M. (2011). Child witch hunts in contemporary Ghana. Child abuse & neglect, 35(9), 741752.

Altshteyn, I. (2014). Evidence for a warning bias in information transmission in social networks.

Ashforth, A. (2002). An epidemic of witchcraft? The implications of aids for the post-apartheid state. African Studies, 61(1), 121143.

Barrett, J. L. (2004). Why would anyone believe in God?: AltaMira Press.

Barrett, J. L., & Lanman, J. A. (2008). The science of religious beliefs. Religion, 38(2), 109124.

Barrett, J. L., & Lawson, E. T. (2001). Ritual intuitions: Cognitive contributions to judgments of ritual efficacy. Journal of cognition and culture, 1(2), 183201.

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of general psychology, 5(4), 323.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3), 497.

Bebbington, K., MacLeod, C., Ellison, T. M., & Fay, N. (2017). The sky is falling: evidence of a negativity bias in the social transmission of information. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38(1), 92101.

Behringer, W. (2004). Witches and witch-hunts: A global history: Polity.

Berger, J., & Milkman, K. L. (2012). What makes online content viral? Journal of marketing research, 49(2), 192205.

Bigler, R. S., Jones, L. C., & Lobliner, D. B. (1997). Social categorization and the formation of intergroup attitudes in children. Child development, 68(3), 530543.

Blumberg, J. (2007, 2011). A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-the-salem-witch-trials-175162489/.

Boyer, P. (1996). What makes anthropomorphism natural: Intuitive ontology and cultural representations. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 8397.

Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behaviour as by-products of brain function. Trends in cognitive sciences, 7(3), 119124.

Boyer, P. (In Prep). Why Do People Try To Explain Misfortune? and, Why do it in terms of agents?

Boyer, P., & Bergstrom, B. (2011). Threat-detection in child development: An evolutionary perspective. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(4), 10341041.

Boyer, P., & Parren, N. (2015). Threat-related information suggests competence: a possible factor in the spread of rumors. PloS one, 10(6), e0128421.

Boyer, P., & Ramble, C. (2001). Cognitive templates for religious concepts: Cross-cultural evidence for recall of counter-intuitive representations. Cognitive Science, 25(4), 535564.

Buss, D. M., & Kenrick, D. T. (1998). Evolutionary social psychology.

Butler, A. C., Kang, S. H., & RoedigerIII, H. L. (2009). Congruity effects between materials and processing tasks in the survival processing paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35(6), 1477.

Callan, A. (2007). ‘What else do we Bengalis do?’ Sorcery, overseas migration, and the new inequalities in Sylhet, Bangladesh. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 13(2), 331343.

Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2005). Neurocognitive adaptations designed for social exchange. The handbook of evolutionary psychology, 584627.

Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Fiddick, L., & Bryant, G. A. (2005). Detecting cheaters. Trends in cognitive sciences, 9, 505506.

Crawford, M. T., Sherman, S. J., & Hamilton, D. L. (2002). Perceived entitativity, stereotype formation, and the interchangeability of group members. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(5), 1076.

Douglas, M. (2013). Witchcraft confessions and accusations: Routledge.

Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302(5643), 290292.

Epley, N., Waytz, A., Akalis, S., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2008). When we need a human: Motivational determinants of anthropomorphism. Social cognition, 26(2), 143155.

Eriksson, K., & Coultas, J. C. (2014). Corpses, maggots, poodles and rats: Emotional selection operating in three phases of cultural transmission of urban legends. Journal of cognition and culture, 14(1–2), 126.

Esses, V. M., Dovidio, J. F., Jackson, L. M., & Armstrong, T. L. (2001). The immigration dilemma: The role of perceived group competition, ethnic prejudice, and national identity. Journal of Social issues, 57(3), 389412.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1937). Witchcraft, magic and oracles among the Azande: Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Fandrich, I. J. (2007). Yorùbá influences on Haitian vodou and New Orleans voodoo. Journal of Black Studies, 37(5), 775791.

Faulkner, J., Schaller, M., Park, J. H., & Duncan, L. A. (2004). Evolved disease-avoidance mechanisms and contemporary xenophobic attitudes. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 7(4), 333353.

Fessler, D. M. (2006). Steps toward an evolutionary psychology of a culture-dependent species.

Fessler, D. M., Holbrook, C., & Dashoff, D. (2016). Dressed to kill? Visible markers of coalitional affiliation enhance conceptualized formidability. Aggressive behavior.

Fessler, D. M., Pisor, A. C., & Holbrook, C. (2017). Political orientation predicts credulity regarding putative hazards. Psychological Science.

Fessler, D. M., Pisor, A. C., & Navarrete, C. D. (2014). Negatively-biased credulity and the cultural evolution of beliefs. PloS one, 9(4), e95167.

Fu, F., Tarnita, C. E., Christakis, N. A., Wang, L., Rand, D. G., & Nowak, M. A. (2012). Evolution of in-group favoritism. Scientific reports, 2, 460.

Gershman, B. (2016). Witchcraft beliefs and the erosion of social capital: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Journal of Development Economics, 120, 182208.

Goette, L., Huffman, D., & Meier, S. (2006). The impact of group membership on cooperation and norm enforcement: Evidence using random assignment to real social groups.

Guthrie, S. E. (1995). Faces in the clouds: A new theory of religion: Oxford University Press.

Hayes, K. E. (2007). Black magic and the academy: macumba and Afro-Brazilian “orthodoxies”. History of Religions, 46(4), 283315.

Heath, C. (1996). Do people prefer to pass along good or bad news? Valence and relevance of news as predictors of transmission propensity. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 68(2), 7994.

Heath, C., Bell, C., & Sternberg, E. (2001). Emotional selection in memes: the case of urban legends. Journal of personality and social psychology, 81(6), 1028.

Hilbig, B. E. (2009). Sad, thus true: Negativity bias in judgments of truth. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 983986.

Hilbig, B. E. (2012). How framing statistical statements affects subjective veracity: Validation and application of a multinomial model for judgments of truth. Cognition, 125(1), 3748.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1984). Choices, values, and frames. American psychologist, 39(4), 341.

Kang, S. H., McDermott, K. B., & Cohen, S. M. (2008). The mnemonic advantage of processing fitness-relevant information. Memory & Cognition, 36(6), 11511156.

Kazanas, S. A., & Altarriba, J. (2017). Did our ancestors fear the unknown? The role of predation in the survival advantage. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 11(1), 83.

Kidder, T. (2003). Mountains beyond mountains: healing the world: the quest of Dr. Paul Farmer: New York: Random House.

Koning, N. (2013). Witchcraft beliefs and witch hunts. Human nature, 24(2), 158181.

Kurzban, R., & Leary, M. R. (2001). Evolutionary origins of stigmatization: the functions of social exclusion. Psychological bulletin, 127(2), 187.

Kurzban, R., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2001). Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(26), 1538715392.

Legare, C. H., & Gelman, S. A. (2008). Bewitchment, biology, or both: The co‐existence of natural and supernatural explanatory frameworks across development. Cognitive Science, 32(4), 607642.

Legare, C. H., & Souza, A. L. (2012). Evaluating ritual efficacy: Evidence from the supernatural. Cognition, 124(1), 115.

Lickel, B., Miller, N., Stenstrom, D. M., Denson, T. F., & Schmader, T. (2006). Vicarious retribution: The role of collective blame in intergroup aggression. Personality and social psychology review, 10(4), 372390.

Liénard, P., & Boyer, P. (2006). Whence collective rituals? A cultural selection model of ritualized behavior. American Anthropologist, 108(4), 814827.

Lienard, P., & Lawson, E. T. (2008). Evoked culture, ritualization and religious rituals. Religion, 38(2), 157171.

Lisdorf, A. (2007). What’s hidd’n in the hadd? Journal of cognition and culture, 7(3), 341353.

McCauley, R. N., & Lawson, E. T. (2002). Bringing ritual to mind: Psychological foundations of cultural forms: Cambridge University Press.

Mesoudi, A., Whiten, A., & Dunbar, R. (2006). A bias for social information in human cultural transmission. British Journal of Psychology, 97(3), 405423.

Miguel, E. (2005). Poverty and witch killing. The Review of Economic Studies, 72(4), 11531172.

Morewedge, C. K. (2009). Negativity bias in attribution of external agency. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138(4), 535.

Nairne, J. S., & Pandeirada, J. N. (2008). Adaptive memory: Is survival processing special? Journal of Memory and Language, 59(3), 377385.

Nairne, J. S., & Pandeirada, J. N. (2010). Adaptive memory: Ancestral priorities and the mnemonic value of survival processing. Cognitive psychology, 61(1), 122.

Nairne, J. S., Thompson, S. R., & Pandeirada, J. N. (2007). Adaptive memory: survival processing enhances retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(2), 263.

Navarrete, C. D., Kurzban, R., Fessler, D. M., & Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2004). Anxiety and intergroup bias: Terror management or coalitional psychology? Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 7(4), 370397.

Navarrete, C. D., McDonald, M. M., Asher, B. D., Kerr, N. L., Yokota, K., Olsson, A., & Sidanius, J. (2012). Fear is readily associated with an out-group face in a minimal group context. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(5), 590593.

Olds, J. M., Lanska, M., & Westerman, D. L. (2014). The role of perceived threat in the survival processing memory advantage. Memory, 22(1), 2635.

Olsson, A., Ebert, J. P., Banaji, M. R., & Phelps, E. A. (2005). The role of social groups in the persistence of learned fear. Science, 309(5735), 785787.

Parish, J. (2011). West African witchcraft, wealth and moral decay in New York City. Ethnography, 12(2), 247265.

Parish, J. (2013). Chasing Celebrity: Akan Witchcraft and New York City. Ethnos, 78(2), 280300.

Peters, K., Kashima, Y., & Clark, A. (2009). Talking about others: Emotionality and the dissemination of social information. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39(2), 207222.

Pietraszewski, D. (2013). What is group psychology? Adaptations for mapping shared intentional stances. Navigating the social world: What infants, children, and other species can teach us, 253257.

Pietraszewski, D., Curry, O. S., Petersen, M. B., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2015). Constituents of political cognition: Race, party politics, and the alliance detection system. Cognition, 140, 2439.

Pratto, F., & John, O. P. (2005). Automatic Vigilance: The Aention-Grabbing Power of negative Social Information. Social cognition: key readings, 250.

Purzycki, B. G., & Willard, A. K. (2016). mci theory: a critical discussion. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 6(3), 207248.

Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and social psychology review, 5(4), 296320.

Schram, R. (2010). Witches’ wealth: witchcraft, confession, and Christianity in Auhelawa, Papua New Guinea. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16(4), 726742.

Skowronski, J. J., & Carlston, D. E. (1989). Negativity and extremity biases in impression formation: A review of explanations. Psychological bulletin, 105(1), 131.

Soderstrom, N. C., & McCabe, D. P. (2011). Are survival processing memory advantages based on ancestral priorities? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18(3), 564569.

Sørensen, J. (2007). Acts that work: A cognitive approach to ritual agency. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 19(3), 281300.

Stadler, J. J. (2003). The young, the rich, and the beautiful: Secrecy, suspicion and discourses of aids in the South African lowveld. African journal of AIDS research, 2(2), 127139.

Stephan, W. G., Ybarra, O., Martnez, C. M., Schwarzwald, J., & Tur-Kaspa, M. (1998). Prejudice toward immigrants to Spain and Israel: An integrated threat theory analysis. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 29(4), 559576.

Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149178.

Tenkorang, E. Y., Gyimah, S. O., Maticka-Tyndale, E., & Adjei, J. (2011). Superstition, witchcraft and hiv prevention in sub-Saharan Africa: The case of Ghana. Culture, health & sexuality, 13(9), 10011014.

van Elk, M. (2013). Paranormal believers are more prone to illusory agency detection than skeptics. Consciousness and cognition, 22(3), 10411046.

van Elk, M. (2015). Perceptual biases in relation to paranormal and conspiracy beliefs. PloS one, 10(6), e0130422.

van Elk, M., Rutjens, B. T., van der Pligt, J., & Van Harreveld, F. (2016). Priming of supernatural agent concepts and agency detection. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 6(1), 433.

van Leeuwen, F., Parren, N., Miton, H., & Boyer, P. (2016). Individual Choose-to-Transmit Decisions Reveal Little Preference for Transmitting Negative or High-Arousal Content. Journal of cognition and culture.

Vasquez, E. A., Wenborne, L., Peers, M., Alleyne, E., & Ellis, K. (2015). Any of them will do: In‐group identification, out‐group entitativity, and gang membership as predictors of group‐based retribution. Aggressive behavior, 41(3), 242252.

Walker, C. J., & Blaine, B. (1991). The virulence of dread rumors: A field experiment. Language & Communication, 11(4), 291297.

Waytz, A., Morewedge, C. K., Epley, N., Monteleone, G., Gao, J.-H., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Making sense by making sentient: effectance motivation increases anthropomorphism. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99(3), 410.

Weinstein, Y., Bugg, J. M., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). Can the survival recall advantage be explained by basic memory processes? Memory & Cognition, 36(5), 913919.

Williams, K. D., Cheung, C. K., & Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(5), 748.

Yamagishi, T., Jin, N., & Kiyonari, T. (1999). Bounded generalized reciprocity. Adv Group Process, 16, 161197.

Yamagishi, T., & Mifune, N. (2008). Does shared group membership promote altruism? Fear, greed, and reputation. Rationality and Society, 20(1), 530.

Information

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 42 42 30
Full Text Views 6 6 3
PDF Downloads 2 2 0
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0