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Cultural Transmission of Precautionary Ideas: The Weighted Role of Implicit Motivation

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Inspired by the idea that cognitive systems evoke cultural phenomena, this study tested a theory suggesting precautionary cognitive mechanisms as both a constraint and an enabler of transmission of cultural concepts such as religious rituals. Using ‘restricted range of themes’ as a link between precautionary cognition and religious rituals, this cross cultural study of Zulu communities in SA tested people’s inferences about implications of failure to perform life-stage rituals in order to identify the nature of the presence of precautionary themes in Zulu rituals and any involvement of environmental factors. The results reflected inferences rather than echoing of formal descriptions of rituals, and revealed a consistent affinity between certain threat-domains and specific Zulu rituals: birth and early age rituals evoked the Contamination/Contagion domain, women’s maturity rituals evoked the Decline in Resources domain, marital rituals evoked a mixture of Decline in Resources and Loss of Status domains, and death rituals evoked the Predation/Assault domain. This suggests that precautionary cognition effect on religious rituals is mediated by life-history strategy rather than by ecology factors, and also, that understanding precautionary cognition is crucial for uncovering the real motivations for religious behaviour, as direct reports cannot be taken at face value.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ancient and Biblical Studies, University of South Africa PretoriaSouth Africa


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