Deity Representation: A Prototype Approach

in Archive for the Psychology of Religion
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Summary

This research systematically evaluates via prototype analysis how conceptualizations of Western adult’s monotheistic God are structured. Over 4 studies, using U.S. student and community samples of predominantly Christians, features of God are identified, feature centrality is documented, and centrality influence on cognition is evaluated. Studies 1 and 2 produced considerable overlap in feature frequency and centrality ratings across the samples, with “God is love” being the most frequently listed central feature. In Studies 3 (choice latency) and 4 (recall and recognition memory), the centrality of features influenced cognitive processes: central features were more quickly identified as features of God than peripheral features; were correctly recognized more often; and central features were correctly recalled more often than peripheral features. Results indicated that participants meaningfully judged centrality and that centrality affected cognition. Thus, the two criteria necessary for demonstrating deity representations adhere to a prototype structure were met. Implications and future directions are discussed.

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