top of page
Key research areas & recent findings

Does religion enhance (pro)sociality?

  • causal directions, effects of religious priming, real behavior

  • impact of the in-/out-group status, role of religious dimensions

  • explanatory processes, cross-religious differences


What motivates existential quest?

Openness & tolerance, yet prevention focus & negative affect

In reviewing, incl. meta-analytically, studies in 17 cultures, we found that being open to reconsider one’s own existential beliefs reflects flexibility, openness, liberalism, tolerance (in soc. cognition, soc. attitudes, identity, morality, intergroup relations), yet prevention focus and negative affect.

awe and conformity.jpg

Awe makes us more comformist

The ambivalence of a positive self-transcendent emotion

Beyond its positive effects, the emotion of awe may induce questionable social attitudes and behavior. In two experiments, induction of awe, compared to amusement or a neutral condition, led to higher endorsement of the conformity value and behavioral conformity to the majority opinion.


Agnostic, not atheist: what makes the difference?

Neurotic, but also other-oriented and open-minded

Are agnostics a psychologically distinct group of nonbelievers? We found agnostics to be equally analytic in thinking but more neurotic than atheists (closet atheists?), but also more other-oriented and spiritual (resembling believers), and the most open-minded compared to atheists and believers.


Fundamentalism is similar across religious cultures

in dimensionality, components, and outcomes

In a 14-country study, we found fundamentalism to be uni-dimensional and to reflect, similarly across religions, dogmatic belief and moral rigorism, and, occasionally, strong groupness; and thus to predict inter-religious prejudice, with some variability between outgroups and between cultures.


Religious morality is righteous more than caring:

it is primarily coalitional, "hygienic", and deontological

In a meta-analysis of 45 studies on religion and moral foundations and a review of 27 studies on religion and moral deontology vs. consequentialism, we found that religious morality is primarily righteous (coalitional, hygienic, and deontological) over caring—only spirituality equally endorses both.

4Bs of religion.jpg

4Bs: identifiable across religions and cultures

distinct psychological characteristics and hierarchies by culture

We identified the 4 religious dimensions (believing, bonding, behaving, belonging) across almost all major world religions (14 countries). These four relate differently to personality, socio-cognitive rigidity, life satisfaction, spirituality, and fundamentalism, and their hierarchy varies across religions.

image-asset 2.png

Deconverts: midway between atheists and believers

in personality and values

Do deconverts resemble the nonbelievers they become (following similar personal dispositions) or the religious they were (due to religious education)? We found deconverts to resemble socialized nonbelievers in neuroticism and low conservatism, but to differ on spirituality and non-materialistic values.


Atheists' prejudice differs from religious prejudice

in motives and values and capacity for "sin-sinner" distinction

(Liberal) nonbelievers' antireligious prejudice differs from (conservative) religionists' prejudice: it is motivated by liberal values (rationality, autonomy) and distrust of others and the word; and reflects effective distinction between religious acts/ideas to oppose and religious persons not to discriminate.

sex Islam.jpg

Religiosity predicts low sexual affects and behavior

partly differently for Christians and Muslims

In two samples of Christian and Muslim tradition, religiosity predicted less frequent heterosexual behaviors, through sexual guilt, inhibition, and low sexual fantasy and search for sexual pleasure. But, in Muslims, religiosity did not directly undermine fertility-oriented sexuality and the search for pleasure.


Atheists are prejudiced against ideological opponents

i.e. anti-liberals, fundamentalists, but also mere religionists 

In a study in three EU countries, whereas both believers and nonbelievers were found to dislike antiliberal groups (antigay activists & fundamentalists), atheists and agnostics showed prejudicial discriminatory attitudes toward antiliberals, but also mere Christians; and atheists did so also tw. Buddhists.

world religions 3.jpg

Religious morality is mostly similar across cultures

but still religious denomination and culture matter

In an extended review of cross-cultural & international studies, we found key similarities bt the world religions on moral issues related to family, sexuality, altruism, & work, but also nuances depending on country-level factors, and differences in moral issues related to economy, environment, & citizenship.


Personality characteristics of religion across cultures:

some are similar but others depend on the cultural context

Cross-cultural evidence across continents reveals agreeableness (consistently) and conscientiousness (not in East Asia) as quasi-universals of religiosity, but also differences on religion's links with all big five personality traits following the civilizational zone and other cultural differences at the country-level. 


Opposing (antiliberal) Muslim ideas does not protect

from discriminating Muslims as persons

In two experiments, Western Europeans were able to distinguish between opposing Muslim antiliberal ideas and not discriminating a Muslim, compared to a Christian, target for a noble cause, but they still showed discrimination by penalizing more a Muslim than a Christian antiliberal. 

sexism 3.jpg

Religious priming increases sexism

for sure, benevolent sexism, even among women

Across four experiments in Belgium and the US, priming religious concepts consistently increased subtle, benevolent, sexism (protective paternalism, traditional gender roles, idealized purity), in men and women, believers or not, of Catholic and Protestant background. 


Need for social closeness: higher among the religious

Just to be together, not strictly for prosocial motives

Across three studies using implicit and behavioral measures, religious people showed high social closeness by implicitly preferring pictures involving affiliation, siting close to a chair previously occupied by someone else, and playing with an ingroup member in a Cyberball game. 

child euthanasia.jpg

Compassion: in favor of or against child euthanasia?

The interplay of ideological, cognitive, and emotional factors

In a study among Belgian adults, those who disapproved child euthanasia tended to be religious, hold collectivistic values (loyalty & purity), had low flexibility in existential issues, and showed mixed prosocial dispositions, i.e. high emotional empathy, but not necessarily valuing care and fairness.

moral dilemma (2).jpg

Struggling between deontology and consequentialism:

Religious people focus on the severity of consequences

What if (impersonal) deontology and care/consequentalism are in conflict? Using moral dilemmas, we found that religiosity predicts deontology over prosociality (partly due to purity) when the consequences for the target are minor, but not when they are severe: care has a suppressor effect.

bottom of page