With God on Our Side

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Principal investigators:

Benjamin A. Converse

University of Virgina

Email: converse@virginia.edu

Homepage: https://pages.shanti.virginia.edu/Benjamin_A_Converse/

Nicholas Epley

University of Chicago

Email: epley@chicagobooth.edu

Homepage: http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/nicholas.epley/

Sample size: 1019

Field period: 06/07/2007-06/16/2007


People often reason egocentrically about others’ beliefs, using their own beliefs as an inductive guide. We designed the current study to test for enhanced egocentrism in judgments of God’s beliefs compared with judgments of the Average American’s beliefs in a representative sample, and to extend our understanding of the causal direction of the proposed Self-God relationship. Specifically, participants indicated their own attitudes toward abortion and same-sex marriage, as well as their estimates of the average American’s and God’s opinions about each of these issues. We manipulated whether participants first indicated their own attitudes or God’s attitudes. The study yielded two findings of note. First, within-participants, self-God correlations were stronger than self-Average American correlations. Second, between-participants, the order of target responses (self first vs. God first) did not influence the magnitude of self-God correlations.


1. Self-God correlations will be higher than Self-American correlations.
2. Self-God correlations will be higher when Self attitudes are expressed first than when God’s attitudes are estimated first.

Experimental Manipulations

Presentation order of target attitude items (self first vs. God first)


(a) Own attitudes about same-sex marriage and abortion
(b) God’s attitudes about same-sex marriage and abortion
(c) Average American’s attitudes about same-sex marriage and abortion

Supplementary measures:
(d) Belief in God ( yes / no)
(e) Frequency of consulting God on important decisions

Summary of Results

Participants indicated their own, God’s, and the Average American’s attitudes about abortion and same-sex marriage. For each issue, the egocentric correlation among religious believers (n = 922) was higher for God (rabortion = .59, rsame-sex marriage = .73) than for the Average American (rabortion = .47, rsame-sex marriage = .43), Zs > 4.0, p < .01. For nonbelievers (n = 77), the egocentric correlation with God’s beliefs was significantly lower (rabortion = .40, rsame-sex marriage = .44) on both issues than for believers, both Fisher’s Zs > 2.0, ps < .05, and did not differ on either issue from the egocentric correlation with the Average American (rabortion = .46, rsame-sex marriage = .34), Zs < 1. It is difficult to interpret these results for nonbelievers, but the relatively weaker egocentric correlations at least demonstrate that they are not an invariant product of inferring God’s beliefs. The order of target judgments did not significantly alter the strength of the egocentric correlations.


Converse, B. A., Epley, N., Cacioppo, J. T., & Reynolds, A. (May, 2008). With God on our side: Egocentric biases are stronger intuiting God’s beliefs than other humans’ beliefs. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association, Chicago, IL.

Epley, N., Converse, B.A., Delbosc, A., Monteleone, G., & Cacioppo, J. 2009. Believers' estimates of God's beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people's beliefs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106:21533-21538.