Religious actions speak louder than words: exposure to credibility enhancing displays predicts theism

Jonathan A. Lanman, Michael D. Buhrmester

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One of the central aims of the cognitive science of religion (CSR) is to explain why supernatural agent beliefs are so widespread. A related but distinct aim is to explain why some individuals hold supernatural agent beliefs but others do not. Here, we aim to provide an initial test of the power of exposure to what Henrich calls “credibility enhancing displays” (or “CREDs”) in determining whether or not an individual holds explicit supernatural agent beliefs. We present evidence from two studies of Americans suggesting that exposure to CREDs, as measured by a scale we developed and validated, predicts current theism vs. non-theism, certainty of God’s existence/non-existence, and religiosity while controlling for overall religious socialization. These results are among the first to empirically support the theorized significance of CREDs for the acquisition of supernatural agent beliefs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
JournalReligion, Brain, and Behavior
Issue number1
Early online date16 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017



  • cognitive science of religion
  • atheism
  • non-theism
  • credibility enhancing displays
  • CREDs
  • religious socialization
  • religious emphasis
  • theism

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