Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

"Afterlife Beliefs: Priming and Category Effects"

Belief in some kind of existence after death is ubiquitous in human culture. Developmental and cross-cultural evidence suggests that there could be a cognitive basis for our tendency to attribute mental states to the dead. Recent research has suggested that this tendency can be affected by context, with increased attributions in a religious context. Category effects have also been reported, whereby we are more likely to judge that some mental states continue after death than others. We investigated whether adults' attribution of mental states to the dead is sensitive to other contexts (biological and emotional), and sought to replicate the category effect. Our results show that a biology context decreases the attribution of some mental states to the dead. This suggests an alternative explanation of previous data, in particular calling into question the significance of religious context. We also replicated the category effect, showing that the attribution rates are higher for emotional, desire and epistemic states than biological, psychobiological and perceptual states. We consider the impact of these results on our understanding of folk psychology.