Date of Award

Summer 1-1-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts In Psychology Degree



First Advisor

Vail, Kenneth E., III

Second Advisor

Eric Allard

Third Advisor

Michael Horvath


The present study draws upon terror management theory (TMT) and cognitive science of religion (CSR) to investigate how religious believers and atheists motivational and cognitive processes might interact to affect the expression of religious intuitions and beliefs. TMT suggests the motivation to manage mortality-related concerns can lead to religious concepts, and CSR suggests religious concepts are highly intuitive but that individuals can sometimes engage in deliberate/analytical thinking to override them. The present research therefore proposes two theoretical ideas: 1) among religious believers, mortality awareness should increase the intuitive appeal of religious concepts, as well as the acceptance of those intuitions as expressed religious belief; and 2) among atheists, mortality awareness should similarly increase the intuitive appeal of religious concepts, but not expressed religious faith because (despite recognizing them as intuitively appealing) atheists may wield their available self-regulatory resources (e.g., analytic thinking) to over-ride those intuitions and thus abstain from expressing religious belief. Christians and atheists were recruited and randomly assigned to either a mortality salience condition or pain salience condition; then, each participant was asked to rate the extent to which they found religious concepts intuitively appealing and the extent to which they accept and express those concepts as religious belief. A 2 (between-subjects: Christian vs. atheist) x 2 (between-subjects: MS vs. pain) x 4 (within-subjects: want supernatural agents, believe in supernatural agents, want afterlife, believe in an afterlife) iii mixed-model ANOVA found the data patterns were consistent with hypotheses; implications are discussed.