Jun 21, 2012

Heaven, hell, and crime rates

Andrew Gelman writes:
Shariff and Rhemtulla find the interesting result that, in a cross-national comparison of countries with data from the World Values Survey, the prevalence of belief in heaven correlates with higher crime rates, and belief in hell correlates with lower crime rates. These patterns remain after controlling for some country-level variables including indicators for the dominant religion in the country. This result surprised me at first—if asked, I would’ve had the vague idea that belief in hell is associated with violent, unsettled lives—but it makes sense from simple psychology: belief in a pleasant afterlife reduces people’s inhibitions while belief in a punishing God could deter one from crime. One can also imagine these effects at an aggregate level whether or not they appear for individuals. A society with widespread belief in hell could have a more punitive culture in which crimes are more strongly frowned upon, etc.
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