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Alison L. Chasteen, Donna C. Burdzy, Jay Pratt; Thinking of God Moves Attention. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):231. doi: 10.1167/10.7.231.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
How strongly do we associate “God” and “Devil” with our physical world? Humans have long used spatial metaphors for abstract concepts of the divine, ranging from Mt. Olympus and the underground Hades in ancient Greece to the current conceptions of Heaven and Hell. Such metaphors are useful as they provide a common metric, physical space, to which abstract information can be bounded and communicated to other people. Indeed, such spatial metaphors are so pervasive in divine concepts that many religious and cultural traditions have representations in either or both vertical and horizontal space. Given the reliance on spatial metaphors in concepts of the divine, it is possible that merely thinking of concepts of God or Devil might invoke brain activity associated with the processing of spatial information and orient people's attention to associated locations. To examine if exposure to divine concepts shifts visual attention, participants completed a target detection task in which they were first presented with God and Devil-related words. We found faster RTs when targets appeared at locations compatible with the concepts of God (up/right locations) or Devil (down/left locations), and also found that these results do not vary by participants' religiosity. These results demonstrate that even a highly abstract concept such as God can lead individuals to orient their attention to spatially compatible locations. These findings provide further evidence that the traditional view of exogenous and endogenous attentional processes may not be adequate, as divine concepts generated involuntary shifts of attention without any corresponding peripheral events. Moreover, these results add further support to the notion that abstract concepts like the divine rely on metaphors that contain strong spatial components.
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