Friday, June 4, 2010

Religious sacrifices in the lab

We all had chuckle when learning about some tribe or civilization making sacrifices to some spirit or deity, sacrifices that seem to be completely ineffective and the result of some superstitions. Before doing some navel gazing whether the sacrifices we do ourselves to our churches fit the same bill, let us think whether there is something innate that makes us surrender to such superstitions with useless sacrifices.

Paul Frijters and Juan Barón perform an experiment whereby participants experience outcome uncertainty due to "Theoi," and participants can make a sacrifice to "Theoi." Despite the fact that these sacrifices have no impact on outcomes, they amount to a staggering 30% of takings. Even labeling the source of the uncertainty later in the experiment as "the weather," which is clearly exogenous, does not change things. Participants facing no uncertainty still sacrificed 7%.

What does it tell us about human nature? Faced with the unknown, we believe we can still influence it with some sacrifice, no matter who irrational that may seem. And this seems to be deeply ingrained in us, as animals do the same, such as pigeons.

1 comment:

michael webster said...

You might find this interesting:

Water witching is a form of magical thinking, which may be necessary under certain circumstances if action is possible.