Within the cognitive science of religion, there is debate about the extent to which religious belief is the byproduct of natural cognitive biases (naturalness hypothesis) versus cultural transmission (cultural exposure hypothesis). Researchers point to evidence from developmental psychological research to support both hypotheses, although in these studies, it is often difficult to parse the role of cultural inputs versus cognitive biases in shaping children’s religious beliefs since the children studied are often from religious backgrounds or their religious backgrounds are unknown. Thus, it is critical to examine the extent to which children from nonreligious families (e.g., those with potentially limited religious cultural input) display previously studied beliefs and behaviors. Little is known, however, about the home belief environments of nonreligious families—a growing U.S. demographic—and even less is known about the mechanisms by which children in these families develop an understanding of religious concepts. The goal of this project is to systematically explore the development of children’s beliefs in nonreligious households by evaluating both their own and their parents’ beliefs. Our proposal has two central Aims. First, we will identify beliefs about religion and religion-relevant cognitive biases held by nonreligious parents to more fully categorize the types of individuals who identify as nonreligious. Second, we will explore the extent to which parents’ beliefs are associated with children’s beliefs and biases. Together, these aims will result in a more complete understanding of the development of children’s beliefs in nonreligious households with an eye to exploring the role of cultural transmission versus cognitive biases in the acquisition of religious belief. In addition, we will develop a flexible online testing system to secure a geographically-diverse sample and provide a basis for advancing methods in child development research.
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