Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 62
  • Cited by
    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Banerjee, Konika and Bloom, Paul 2016. You get what you give: children's karmic bargaining. Developmental Science,

    Franek, Juraj 2016. Methodological Consilience of Evolutionary Ethics and Cognitive Science of Religion. Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol. 16, Issue. 1-2, p. 144.

    Lane, Jonathan D. Zhu, Liqi Evans, E. Margaret and Wellman, Henry M. 2016. Developing Concepts of the Mind, Body, and Afterlife: Exploring the Roles of Narrative Context and Culture. Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol. 16, Issue. 1-2, p. 50.

    Mccauley, Robert N. 2016. The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism.

    McNamara, Rita Anne Norenzayan, Ara and Henrich, Joseph 2016. Supernatural punishment, in-group biases, and material insecurity: experiments and ethnography from Yasawa, Fiji. Religion, Brain & Behavior, Vol. 6, Issue. 1, p. 34.

    Morgan, Jonathan 2016. Religion and dual-process cognition: a continuum of styles or distinct types?. Religion, Brain & Behavior, Vol. 6, Issue. 2, p. 112.

    Vonk, Jennifer and Pitzen, Jerrica 2016. Religiosity and the formulation of causal attributions. Thinking & Reasoning, Vol. 22, Issue. 2, p. 119.

    Bahna, Vladimír 2015. Explaining Vampirism: Two Divergent Attractors of Dead Human Concepts. Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol. 15, Issue. 3-4, p. 285.

    Banerjee, Konika and Bloom, Paul 2015. “Everything Happens for a Reason”: Children's Beliefs About Purpose in Life Events. Child Development, Vol. 86, Issue. 2, p. 503.

    Davis, Taylor 2015. Group Selection in the Evolution of Religion: Genetic Evolution or Cultural Evolution?. Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol. 15, Issue. 3-4, p. 235.

    Heflick, Nathan A. Goldenberg, Jamie L. Hart, Joshua and Kamp, Siri-Maria 2015. Death awareness and body-self dualism: A why and how of afterlife belief. European Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 45, Issue. 2, p. 267.

    Järnefelt, Elisa Canfield, Caitlin F. and Kelemen, Deborah 2015. The divided mind of a disbeliever: Intuitive beliefs about nature as purposefully created among different groups of non-religious adults. Cognition, Vol. 140, p. 72.

    Koenig, Melissa A. Cole, Caitlin A. Meyer, Meredith Ridge, Katherine E. Kushnir, Tamar and Gelman, Susan A. 2015. Reasoning about knowledge: Children’s evaluations of generality and verifiability. Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 83, p. 22.

    Lindeman, Marjaana Svedholm-Häkkinen, Annika M. and Lipsanen, Jari 2015. Ontological confusions but not mentalizing abilities predict religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in supernatural purpose. Cognition, Vol. 134, p. 63.


    Pyszczynski, Tom Solomon, Sheldon and Greenberg, Jeff 2015.

    Banerjee, Konika and Bloom, Paul 2014. Why did this happen to me? Religious believers’ and non-believers’ teleological reasoning about life events. Cognition, Vol. 133, Issue. 1, p. 277.

    Collier, Mark 2014. The natural foundations of religion. Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 27, Issue. 5, p. 665.

    Emmons, Natalie A. and Kelemen, Deborah 2014. The Development of Children's Prelife Reasoning: Evidence From Two Cultures. Child Development, Vol. 85, Issue. 4, p. 1617.

    Ferretti, Francesco and Adornetti, Ines 2014. Biology, Culture and Coevolution: Religion and Language as Case Studies. Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol. 14, Issue. 3-4, p. 305.


The folk psychology of souls

  • Jesse M. Bering (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 October 2006

The present article examines how people's belief in an afterlife, as well as closely related supernatural beliefs, may open an empirical backdoor to our understanding of the evolution of human social cognition. Recent findings and logic from the cognitive sciences contribute to a novel theory of existential psychology, one that is grounded in the tenets of Darwinian natural selection. Many of the predominant questions of existential psychology strike at the heart of cognitive science. They involve: causal attribution (why is mortal behavior represented as being causally related to one's afterlife? how are dead agents envisaged as communicating messages to the living?), moral judgment (why are certain social behaviors, i.e., transgressions, believed to have ultimate repercussions after death or to reap the punishment of disgruntled ancestors?), theory of mind (how can we know what it is “like” to be dead? what social-cognitive strategies do people use to reason about the minds of the dead?), concept acquisition (how does a common-sense dualism interact with a formalized socio-religious indoctrination in childhood? how are supernatural properties of the dead conceptualized by young minds?), and teleological reasoning (why do people so often see their lives as being designed for a purpose that must be accomplished before they perish? how do various life events affect people's interpretation of this purpose?), among others. The central thesis of the present article is that an organized cognitive “system” dedicated to forming illusory representations of (1) psychological immortality, (2) the intelligent design of the self, and (3) the symbolic meaning of natural events evolved in response to the unique selective pressures of the human social environment.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *