is our reward

Publications in Cultural Background by NOMIS researchers

NOMIS Researcher(s)

April 3, 2023

In countries such as Britain and the US, court witnesses must declare they will provide truthful evidence and are often compelled to publicly choose between religious (“oath”) and secular (“affirmation”) versions of this declaration. Might defendants who opt to swear an oath enjoy more favourable outcomes than those who choose to affirm? Two preliminary, pre-registered survey studies using minimal vignettes (Study 1, N = 443; Study 2, N = 913) indicated that people associate choice of the oath with credible testimony; and that participants, especially religious participants, discriminate against defendants who affirm. In a third, Registered Report study (Study 3, N = 1821), we used a more elaborate audiovisual mock trial paradigm to better estimate the real-world influence of declaration choice. Participants were asked to render a verdict for a defendant who either swore or affirmed, and were themselves required to swear or affirm that they would try the defendant in good faith. Overall, the defendant was not considered guiltier when affirming rather than swearing, nor did mock-juror belief in God moderate this effect. However, jurors who themselves swore an oath did discriminate against the affirming defendant. Exploratory analyses suggest this effect may be driven by authoritarianism, perhaps because high-authoritarian jurors consider the oath the traditional (and therefore correct) declaration to choose. We discuss the real-world implications of these findings and conclude the religious oath is an antiquated legal ritual that needs reform. © 2023 The Authors. British Journal of Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The British Psychological Society.

Research field(s)
Health Sciences, Psychology & Cognitive Sciences, Experimental Psychology

Although the study of political behaviour has been traditionally restricted to the social sciences, new advances in political neuroscience and computational cognitive science highlight that the biological sciences can offer crucial insights into the roots of ideological thought and action. Echoing the dazzling diversity of human ideologies, this theme issue seeks to reflect the multiplicity of theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding the nature of the political brain. Cutting-edge research along three thematic strands is presented, including (i) computational approaches that zoom in on fine-grained mechanisms underlying political behaviour, (ii) neurocognitive perspectives that harness neuroimaging and psychophysiological techniques to study ideological processes, and (iii) behavioural studies and policy-minded analyses of such understandings across cultures and across ideological domains. Synthesizing these findings together, the issue elucidates core questions regarding the nature of uncertainty in political cognition, the mechanisms of social influence and the cognitive structure of ideological beliefs. This offers key directions for future biologically grounded research as well as a guiding map for citizens, psychologists and policymakers traversing the uneven landscape of modern polarization, misinformation, intolerance and dogmatism. This article is part of the theme issue ‘The political brain: neurocognitive and computational mechanisms’.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Evolutionary Biology