Adults identified as believers and sceptics based on self-reports from a supernatural beliefs scale were assessed on two measures of inhibition; the Stroop Color‐Word Task and the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). Both groups were of equal educational status and background. However, believers made significantly more errors than sceptics on all subscales of the WCST but were equivalent in performance on the Stroop measure. This finding is consistent with the idea that supernatural beliefs in adults are related to some types of inhibitory control.
The belief that damaging an object may harm the individual to which the object relates is common among adults. We explored whether arousal following the destruction of a photograph of a loved partner is greater than that following the destruction of a photograph of a stranger, and whether this response is greater than when a photograph representing a non-person sentimental attachment is destroyed, using a measure of skin conductance response. Long-term supporters of a football team, who were also in a long-term relationship, showed increased arousal when asked to destroy a photograph of their partner, but not a photograph of their team, even though both elicited equivalent ratings of emotional attachment. This may be because football teams are conceptualized differently from individuals. Future studies should address whether destruction of symbols that represent the enduring nature of the team elicit more emotional distress than photograph.
Although young children might be uncertain about the nature of certain representations, most modern adults would explicitly maintain that photographs have no ongoing physical connection the objects that they depict. We demonstrate here in three studies that destruction of a photograph of a sentimental object produces significantly more electrodermal activity than destruction of photographs of other control objects. This response is not attributable to anxiety about being observed whilst destroying the picture, nor is it entirely due to simple visual association ‐ the same response occurs when the photograph does not resemble the object. We suggest that this effect may reflect a tacit acceptance of “sympathetic magic”.
In two studies we investigated whether people evidence an effect of moral contamination with respect to hypothetical organ transplants. This was achieved by asking participants to make judgements after presenting either positive or negative background information about the donor. In the first study, positive/negative background information had a corresponding effect on three judgements with attitudes to a heart transplant most pronounced by negative background information relative to good information and controls. This effect was replicated in the second study with both heart and liver transplantation. Negative effects were stronger than positive effects in all conditions consistent with a negativity bias, but again stronger with regards to organs than controls. These results confirm findings from surveys that reveal real patients are concerned about moral contamination following organ transplantation and show that this bias in evident even in hypothetical, non-life-threatening scenarios. In a third study we found a significantly stronger moral contagion effect in Japanese relative to English participants, suggesting that concerns about moral contagion may be moderated by culture.