Term of Award

Spring 2004

Degree Name

Masters of Science in Psychology

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Michael E. Nielsen

Committee Member 1

Amy Hackney

Committee Member 2

John D. Murray

Committee Member 3

Richard Rogers


Little is understood concerning the cognitive processing of religious attitudes. The limited research in this area applies schema theory to describe religious attitudes, but in doing so neglects specific cognitive processes. The present study applies cognitive processing theory to the domain of religious attitudes in order to examine whether individuals process certain types of information automatically, and how this may affect behavior. Two pilot studies suggest that being primed with religious words leads to the automatic activation of corresponding religious attitudes and that religious priming accesses a motivational state. Dijksterhuis and Bargh (2001) recently theorized that individuals demonstrate automatic behaviors because of the social advantages of assimilating to the social environment. This would suggest that regardless of one's religiosity, being primed with religious words may motivate one to conform to the perceived intents and goals of religious people. The current study examined this possibility by testing contrast and assimilation effects of primed religious words. It was predicted that an underlying social assimilation process accounted for previously found automatic behavioral effects of religious priming in a task that misled people to cheat. Results showed that participants did indeed cheat more when primed with concrete as opposed to general religious words. Contrary to predictions, however, the suggested contrast found in the concrete religious word group showed no difference when participants' cognitive capacity was manipulated. Participant's level of intrinsic religiousness also showed no effect on the tendency to cheat, failing to replicate past results. Overall, these mixed results suggest an assimilation process in religious priming. Future research is discussed that may offer better tests of the role cognitive processing plays in religious social perception and behavior.


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