Subliminal religious priming activates submission and conformity


 According to many theoretical perspectives, religion is positively associated with submission and conformity. However, no study to date provided experimental evidence for this hypothesis. We did so in three experiments that relied on priming procedures.

In Experiment 1, participants were tested for the strength of their religion-submission associations by using a lexical decision task. In Experiment 2, participants were primed with either religious or neutral concepts and were invited or not by the experimenter to take revenge on an individual who had allegedly criticized them. Both studies provided evidence for the expected religion-submission association, although the effects were limited to participants scoring high in personal submissiveness. Among these individuals, religious priming increased the accessibility of submission-related concepts (Exp. 1) and the acceptance of a morally problematic request for revenge (Exp. 2). Discussion focuses on questions for future research and implications for our understanding of religion’s role in morality and interpersonal relations.

Saroglou, V., Corneille, O., & Van Cappellen, P. (2009). “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”: Religious priming activates submissive thoughts and behaviors . International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 19, 143-154. 

UPDATE: new study (Experiment 3)

Religious priming activates submissive thoughts and facilitates compliance to authority‟s request for revenge among individuals with high dispositional submissiveness (Saroglou, Corneille, & Van Cappellen, 2009). The present experiment examines another key social influence issue: the effect of religious priming on informational conformity. Participants primed with subtle religious or control cues were asked to complete a numeric estimation task. In this task, they were left free to use or disregard numeric estimates allegedly provided by peers for reporting their own numeric decision. Results revealed that participants assimilated their estimates to that of their peers more after religious than control priming, at least for participants scoring higher on dispositional submissiveness. This finding adds to current research concerned with the impact of religious priming in social cognition and behavior.

Van Cappellen, P., Corneille, O., Cols, S., & Saroglou, V. (2011). Beyond mere compliance to authoritative figures: Religious priming increases conformity to informational influence among submissive people . International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 21, 97-105.