NCBI ROFL: Mating competitors increase religious beliefs.

By ncbi rofl | August 17, 2011 7:00 pm

“It has been presumed that religiosity has an influence on mating behavior, but here we experimentally investigate the possibility that mating behavior might also influence religiosity.

In Experiment 1, people reported higher religiosity after looking at mating pools consisting of attractive people of their own sex compared to attractive opposite sex targets. Experiment 2 replicated the effect with an added control group, and suggested that both men and women become more religious when seeing same sex competitors. We discuss several possible explanations for these effects. Most broadly, the findings contribute to an emerging literature on how cultural phenomena such as religiosity respond to ecological cues in potentially functional ways.”

Photo: flickr/21TonGiant

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  • Kate E

    I wasn’t brought up to think that religion is a good thing so I think I speak with some objectivity here. I think that most people are religious in their own way and they assume that a member of the same gender will understand their “type of religion.” When men see a woman they think that religion is something to keep them walking the straight and narrow. When women see a man they think that religion is something to control them, keep them in the house.

  • Cory Gross

    No offense Kate, but no point of that has been reflective of any part of my experience. I am a liberal Christian and have dated women from all across the spectrum, from atheists and agnostics to other Christians to Pagans/Wiccans. It always comingles in different ways and I don’t make assumptions about any of it.

  • @thorfi

    … wait. So, if you look at hot same sex people, you become religious?

    So it’s not that gay porn that makes you gay, it’s that gay porn makes you religious!

    This explains much about certain closeted religious bigots…

  • Jeff L

    This study goes well with what I’ve seen in psychology and religious studies. But I would add that it makes sense that they become more religious when there is more competition around. The reason may be that once you are serious about settling down, it is beneficial for you if there is a social stigma against your partner screwing around.

  • Nick

    I can see multiple possible reasons.
    1. A person in a highly competitive environment may want to insure that their partner doesn’t stray, so seeks someone who relies not just on a personal committment (marriage) but a social committment (religion) as well. That reduces the fear of abandonment.

    2. A person in a highly competitive environment may want to make themselves seem more attractive in a different way, by being more like the model of “beauty” that was presented to them by society in the past. By being more religions, they may increase their odds of attracting a mate.

    3. A person in a highly competitive environment may want to find a reason to drive other prospects “out of the running” by indoctrinating their selected partner on the value of religion as a criteria for choosing a mate, and thereby hoping to insure that an appealing person of a different religion will no longer be considered appealing by their chosen partner. (This one is from personal experience).

  • Tom Rees

    The key thing to remember is that men and women have different preferred mating strategies. When there is a surplus of men, there are more marriages. When there’s a surplus of women, there are fewer marriages and more short term relationships.

    The theory goes that that’s because when men are in demand they can dictate the terms of the relationship, and the relationships they seek are more causal (generalising wildly here, of course, but you get the point).

    So when women are in surplus, they respond by lowering their relationship demands and accepting casual relationships.

    Since casual relationships are non-religious, if a woman portrays herself as religious in such circumstances then she will be at a competitive disadvantage – she runs the risk of being passed over for another women who is prepared to enter a casual relationship, and perhaps end up with no mating partner at all.

  • Ronald S. Boyd

    I don’t necessarily think it is contradictory to hypothesize that it could still be about the fidelity aspect. A fairly routine part of religiosity is the desire for others to share the same belief — and not uncommonly, an imperative to try to convince them to do so! — so if it follows that a person concerned about fidelity would hope potential partners were more religious, it’s not particularly surprising to me that that might induce people to report their own religiosity more highly.

    In other words, the subconscious thought pattern is roughly: “Crap, lots of competition. So fidelity would be advantageous for me. Fidelity is good. Religion preaches fidelity. So religion is good.”

    Or something like that. I think your take — the positive FDS as Bjorn points out — is just as, if not more, plausible. I’m just saying that the religiosity/fidelity connection can’t necessarily be ruled out.


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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl


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