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How Belief in Punitive Gods May Have Helped Large Societies Cooperate

When asked to place a coin in one of the two cups, everyone tended to give more coins to themselves or local members of the same religion than to others. But these choices differed depending on how highly each participant rated how punitive they believed their god to be. For example, in a choice between giving coins to themselves versus a distant person of similar beliefs, people who believed punitive gods had little power over their lives were most likely to take the coin for themselves, while people who believed strongly in punitive gods that had more power were more likely to give it away.

 

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