Religious people are trusted because of assumptions about their life strategies, study finds

Research has consistently found that religious people are judged as more trustworthy than the nonreligious. A new study published in Psychological Science has found evidence that this is because religious people are viewed as slow life history strategists.

According to life history theory, early life experiences can shape an individual’s behavior toward relationships and life in general.

Those faced with unpredictable childhoods develop a fast life strategy that emphasizes insecure attachments, immediate gratification, and risky behaviors. Those with a more stable childhood, on the other hand, develop a slow life strategy that emphasizes long-term goals, greater investments, and reduced aggression.

“Past work has revealed interesting links between religion and life-history strategies. In short, it seems like attitudes about sexuality and the family are one of the biggest drivers of religious belief. We were interested in the implications of this fact for social behavior,” said study author Jordan W. Moon of Arizona State University.

In three separate studies with a total of 1,173 participants, the researchers found that religious people were viewed as followers of slow life strategies.

The participants tended to assume that religious people had a nicer upbringing, were more committed to romantic relationships, less impulsive, less aggressive, and more educated. This, in turn, predicted religious people being viewed as more trustworthy.

“There is a consistent finding that religious people are trusted — even by nonreligious people and members of other religious groups,” Moon told PsyPost. “One might assume that this has something to do with belief in God or gods — perhaps religious people are more trustworthy because they believe they will be punished for immoral behavior, or maybe nonreligious people threaten the values that many people hold.”

“Our research suggests that people are actually less interested in others’ beliefs per se; instead, people want to know how other people will act. In this vein, religion is a good cue about a certain set of behaviors: a person’s life history strategy,” Moon explained.

“However, when people know something concrete about other people‚Äôs life history (for instance, their dating preference), they rely on that information rather than on religion.”

The research does have some limitations, particular in regards to its generalizability.

“Our studies used participants in the United States, and were conducted online,” Moon said. “Given that religion is associated with life-history strategies across most of the world, we suspect that the pattern of results would be similar in other countries, but we would need more data to make that claim.”

“It might be even more interesting to see when this is not the case. For instance, in some parts of the world, slow life-history strategies seem to be the default (e.g., in Scandinavian countries). In these areas, religion might not be a useful cue about life-history strategies, and they might not show the same effects.”

The study, “Religious People Are Trusted Because They Are Viewed as Slow Life-History Strategists“, was authored by Jordan W. Moon, Jaimie Arona Krems, and Adam B. Cohen.