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A new study published in the journal, Nature, tests the theory that communities are fair and cooperate with outsiders because of the fear of divine retribution.

Fear of divine retribution linked to spread of human civilisations

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The researchers conducted games with people of different religions and interviewed them about their beliefs. They found the higher individuals rated their god as being moralistic, knowledgeable and punishing, the more likely they were to give money to strangers who shared their religious beliefs. The study carried out by an international research team concludes that world religions promoting moralistic, punitive gods that take an interest in human affairs may have contributed to the dramatic expansion of human societies after the agricultural revolution.

The findings are based on a series of economic games carried out with 600 people of different religions living in eight diverse countries. During several games, players were given the choice of putting money in cups assigned to their own group including themselves or in another cup intended for someone who was a stranger but who shared the same religious beliefs as that player.  

Read more on the University website (opens new window)