I sat in on some fascinating presentations at The Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference today.
One of my favorites was by a researcher named Jeremy Pollack. He’s an Anthropologist out of UCLA who studies the evolutionary role of religious belief.
He presented a study in which he ran a very large paintball game. Before the match, one team was led through a group prayer focused around the “support of a higher power, while the other team was led through a nature-focused meditation.
After each team went through their pre-match process, they were given a survey with questions like: How confident are you that your squad will win?
They then played the game (which ended in a “tie”), and were surveyed again.
The results were striking.
Those who were led through the “higher power” prayer were much more confident that their squad was going to win the competition.
And those same people thought that their team had performed much better than the opposing team after the match had ended (in fact a lot of them claimed they had “won”).
He then went on to make the argument that religious belief was selected for because it gives the believing group substantial warfare advantages.
You can imagine how important fearlessness and confidence is on the chaotic battlefield… and the belief in a supernatural ally could be one way of encouraging these traits.
It’s an interesting thought, at least.