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Establishing Personal Identity in Reincarnation: Minds and Bodies Reconsidered

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Little is known about how the minds and bodies of reincarnated agents are represented. In three studies, participants decided which individual, out of multiple contenders, was most likely to be the reincarnation of a deceased person, based upon a single matching feature between the deceased and each of the candidates. While most participants endorsed reincarnation as entailing a new body, they reasoned that candidates with a similar physical mark (e.g., a mole) or a similar episodic autobiographical memory to the deceased, when alive, were more likely than candidates with other physical or psychological based similarities to be the reincarnation of the deceased. As predicted, by increasing the distinctiveness of a matching physical mark and an episodic autobiographical memory, while holding others constant, likelihood judgments for the candidate with the similar distinctive physical mark were significantly higher than candidates with non-distinctive physical marks, but differences between the distinct and general episodic autobiographical memory condition did not reach statistical significance. These findings support the claim that we intuitively represent reincarnated agents as psychologically determined but physically embodied, and that different assumptions underpin the use of physical and psychological features to establish identity in reincarnation contexts.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, California State University Northridge, ca USA Institute of Cognition and Culture, Queen’s University Belfast UK


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