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When Minds Migrate: Conceptualizing Spirit Possession

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To investigate possible cognitive factors influencing the cross-cultural incidence of spirit possession concepts and to develop a more refined understanding of the precise contours of 'intuitive mind-body dualism' (Bloom, 2004), two studies were conducted that explored adults' intuitions about the relationship between minds and bodies. Specifically, the studies explored how participants reason about the effects of a hypothetical mind-migration across a range of behaviours. Both studies used hypothetical mind-transfer scenarios in which the mind of one person ("Beth") is transferred into the body of another person ("Ann"). Participants were asked to reason about the new post-transfer person's behaviours and aptitudes. In Study 1, participants (n=25) were provided with a scale on which they indicated their answers; in Study 2, participants (n=26) responded to open-ended questions. In both studies, the majority of participants reasoned that while the post-transfer person's performance on physical tasks (e.g., sprinting) would be similar to the host (i.e., Ann) performance on mental tasks (e.g., story-telling) would be similar to the person whose mind has been transferred (i.e., Beth). Further, participants tended to assume a complete displacement of minds, such that the post-transfer person's performance on mental task items was reasoned to be identical to incoming person's performance normally. The relevance of these findings for explaining the variable incidence and spread of different possession concepts is discussed.

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Anthropology and Mind, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK


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