This project will investigate the role of collective prayer for parochial altruism.  Complex societies require cooperation, even with non-kin and strangers. This cooperation is risky, as it requires individuals to trust that others will also cooperate and forgo self-interest for the sake of the community. Beside the need to overcome self-interest, research in social psychology suggests that the presence of others reduced the likelihood of prosocial behavior (Darley & Latane, 1968). Even imagining the presence of others reduces the likelihood for prosocial behaviors like volunteering (Garcia, Weaver, Moskowitz, & Darley, 2002). Because of this barrier, cooperation is surprising and has inspired a large body of research (c.f. Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Nowak, 2006). Overcoming self-interest and deter free riders—people who do not contribute but benefit nonetheless from others cooperation—is a problem every society has to solve.

A growing body of work is pointing to the role of collective religious ritual behaviors, such as collective prayer, to understand the riddle of cooperation (Rossano, 2012). Collective religious ritual seem to be involved in creating “moral communities” of non-kin within which people show commitment to norms guiding cooperative behavior (Sosis & Alcorta, 2003; Atran & Norenzayan, 2004; Bloom, 2012). Consistently, religious people have been shown to engage in more altruistic behaviors (e.g. charitable giving and volunteering) than do less religious people; but they also seem to endorse more negative attitudes towards minorities (c.f. Bloom, 2011). Research on the psychology of religion suggests that its positive and negative effects are due to the fact that religion helps constitute moral communities (Graham and Haidt, 2012). Members of these communities then exhibit pro-social behaviors, which at times can include aggression towards other group in competitive or conflictual contexts. There is intriguing correlative evidence that suggest that religious collective ritual is at the driving factor (Sosis & Ruffle, 2003). However, experimental evidence that would establish the causal link between collective religious ritual and parochial altruism is lacking so far. The purpose of this research project is to help fill this gap by conducting a series of experiments investigating the effects of collective prayer (a ritual prevalent in many religious traditions, worldwide) on the commitment and attachment to the community, and its effects on altruistic behavior towards one’s own group and others.

We use a methodology that integrates basic and applied research, combining laboratory studies and experimental surveys in the field. We will conduct the research mainly with religious communities within the US. However, intergroup conflict is particularly conducive to parochial altruism, as the success in direct competition between groups depends on how much individual members are willing to support group goals at the cost of individual goals. We will conduct studies with Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians to investigate the effects of a conflict laden intergroup context on the role that collective prayer plays for group cohesion and commitment. These studies will also allow us to establish that our findings in the US generalize to other populations.

The proposed studies will test the following hypotheses on: a) collective prayer increases parochial altruism, or prosocial behavior preferentially directed towards fellow group members, b) the relationship between collective prayer and parochial altruism is mediated by identity fusion and deontological reasoning, c) the underlying mechanism for this effect are synchronous movements or mass mimicry , d) individual acts of costly behaviors (such as fasting) that serve as costly signals of identity, and e) the combination of these behaviors (mass mimicry and costly acts) will increase both identity fusion and parochial altruism in the absence of religious content.