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Religious Solidarity: The Hand Grenade Experiment

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We describe the results of an experiment testing for the presence of strong altruism among Christians in New Zealand. The study examined anonymous participant generosity to cohort. We found that in modified dictator games, anonymous Christians in New Zealand gave significantly more to Canadian Christians than anonymous New Zealand citizens gave to their fellow citizens. The gifting opportunities occurred after anonymous benefactors observed recipients willingly undertake costly acts of group commitment. We found that mean gifting after witnessing a fellow group member metaphorically "fall on a hand grenade" to punish a member of an out-group was almost four times greater in the Christian group than it was in the New Zealand control. Our data support the hypothesis that religious altruism (here, anonymously rewarding the costly punishment of a religious out-grouper) exists and is especially strong among Christians in New Zealand. The data also weakly support a multi-level selection hypothesis for the evolution of religious altruism.

Affiliations: 1: School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

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