This project will delineate the core themes of religious cognition, moral cognition, and social cognitive development by examining the development and consequences of moralizing God concepts (the idea that God knows and cares about morally relevant behaviors). I will unite approaches from social, cognitive, and developmental psychology and the cognitive science of religion to answer 2 Big Questions: What is the role of religion and spirituality in human experience? How and why does social cognition change across development? The 7 studies will address 3 specific questions: 1) How do children and adults attribute knowledge of moral transgressions to God? 2) How do children and adults expect God to respond to transgressions? 3) How do expectations regarding God’s responses to transgressions shape participants’ own responses? This project is needed to clarify mechanisms underlying moralizing God concepts and illuminate the consequences of God concepts for behavior. By doing so, the project will contribute to theorizing regarding religious cognition, morality, and development. This work will also offer insights that may help people act pro-socially (e.g., apologize after transgressing).
Results will be shared with scientists and laypeople. Deliverables include 4 peer-reviewed articles, 11 conference abstracts, 2 op-eds, 3 summaries of talks to laypeople, and open science materials (e.g., pre-registrations, study materials, and datasets associated with each article). This research will lead to enduring impacts in 3 areas: 1) increasing scientific knowledge of religion, morality, and development; 2) promoting interdisciplinary research; 3) increasing laypeople’s scientific understanding and engagement. These impacts will influence scientists by promoting new discoveries and collaborations. They will also influence laypeople by leading to knowledge that can be used to facilitate pro-social responses to transgressions and by involving families in scientific discovery.