Attribution Theory and the Psychology of Religion Author(s): Wayne Proudfoot and Phillip Shaver Source: Journal for

the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Dec., 1975), pp. 317-330 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/02/2011 18:18
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Blackwell Publishing and Society for the Scientific Study of Religion are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

he study of religious beliefs and experience has not been well integrated into academic psychology. Possibilities for experimental research are briefly considered. most of their *This is an expanded version of a paper read at the 1974 meetings of the American Academy of Religion. Copyright ? 1976 by.Journal for the Scientific Study. Preparation of this paper was facilitated by Grant 25543 from the National Institute of Mental Health. A classic conversion experience discussed by William James. Despite a promising start seventy years ago. following Freud'slead. is especially promising for the study of religion because it deals directly with individuals' interpretations of their own experiences and behavior. were both illsuited to follow James' pioneering work. Y. Three lines of attribution research are reviewed and each is shown to be useful for understanding certain religious phenomena. 1975. The dominant theoretical forces in-twentiethcentury psychology. 10027 and Theory of and the Religion* PHILLIP SHAVER Department of Psychology Columbia University New York. with the publication of William James' Varieties of Religious Experience. Y. attribution theory. tended to treat religion as a collective neurosis and an expression of childish dependency. N. the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion . Behaviorism. the psychology of religion has been ignored by most research psychologists. an experimental study of mystical experience. but few have drawn on relevant work by cognitive social psychologists. as a matter of principle. 10027 Recent anthropological and sociological studies have emphasized the cognitive functions of religion. the experiences of the apostles at Pentecost. behaviorism and psychoanalysis. did not consider beliefs or experiences of any kind. whether religious or mundane. Psychoanalysis. Although Jung and others in the psychoanalytic tradition have been interested in religious symbolism. N. 14(4): 317-330 Attribution Psychology WAYNE PROUDFOOT Department of Religion Columbia University New York. One currentsocial psychological approach. and several examples from an American Nichiren Shoshu group are considered in the light of attribution theory.of Religion.

emotions. and it seems likely that research stimulated by the theory can illuminate some of the phenomena originally described in the Varieties.beliefs. emotional.The purpose of the present paper is to show how attribution theory might contribute to the psychology of religion. e. 1973).anomalous experiences and events that bring people face to face with the limits of their worlds.are again moving toward center stage. the new formulations have been vague at the psychological level of analysis. This theme has also been discussed in the context of the sociology of knowledge (Berger and Luckmann. The central issues in social psychology are being organized around attribution theory (Kelley. The "theory"is actually a loose coalition of smallertheories whose various authors did not recognize the mutual compatibility of their work until a few years ago. or the calling into question of the moral code of a culture. however. ATTRIBUTION THEORY At the moment there is no firm agreementon the overall form of attribution theory. Shaver. personal experience . might contribute a new approach to the psychology of religion. A person finds himself running away from a threatening . Some of the conceptual roots of attribution theory are found in James. James had given several examples to illustrate his meaning. indeed an increased cognitive emphasis in all the social sciences. institutions. 1970.on the ways in which these allow people to make sense of their experience (Bellah. In sociology and anthropology. 1967. Schachter's Theory of Emotion Schachter (1971) began by reconsidering William James' statement that emotion is the perception of bodily changes (James. Geertz. a theory designed to explain how people perceive and account for their own behavior. Bem (1972). 1975). philosophers. Although rooted in the classic work of Weber.g. How do crises of interpretability arise? What kinds of interpretation serve to reduce anxieties associated with these crises? What is the relation between cognitive. Recently there have been signs that cognitive psychology. birth. and Weiner (1972). In order to discuss the relevance of the theory to religion. and social scientists during the first half of this century. the self. this cognitive approach to religion stands in sharp contrast to the dominant approaches of theologians. 1967). 1890:449). inexplicable suffering. Thus far.318 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION work has been clinical in orientation and has neither influenced nor been influenced by the major trends in academic psychology. Members of the coalition share a concern with the way persons perceive the causes of their own bodily states and behavior. relying heavily on the work of Schachter (1971). and practices . 1973)argue that religion functions as a cognitive system to reduce anxieties over problems of interpretability raised by "boundary situations" . and volitional components of religious phenomena? Answers to some of these questions may be provided by current work in social psychology. we will provide a brief account of recent developments. The authors of a recent essay (Little and Twiss. where many of the topics that captured James' attention . 1966. death. Douglas.. recent characterizations of religion have focused on the cognitive function of religious symbols.

we would contend that any generalized physiological change elicits evaluative needs and requires labelling. This idea. tremor. etc. anger. has received substantial empirical support. tremor. An early study by Mara-non(1924). love. and menstrual distress. In some conditions this person acted euphoric and frivolous.. conflict. or attribution. it seems quite plausible.Throughout this paper we use the term "arousal"in the interests of brevity. raised a problem for Schachter's formulation. and that the artificial induction of visceral changes typical of strong emotions does not automatically produce the emotions. Laboratory induced sensory deprivation has resulted in subjects'reports that are often similar to classical descriptions of mystical experience. depending on the set created by a confederate of the experimenter. 1929) cast considerable doubt on James' theory by noting that the same visceral changes occur in very different emotional states and in nonemotional states. To anticipate our argument. however. and sexual attraction to hunger. While waiting for a "vision test.). thereby producing heart palpitations. in other conditions he acted injured and angry. The major finding of the experiment was that subjects who did not expect arousal symptoms tended to experience the emotion portrayed by the actor in the waiting room. Although Schachter refers only to diffuse arousal states. or in some way excited. anxiety. finally tearing up a questionnaire he was supposed to complete. will give rise to the need for a label or interpretation. For our purposes. Subjects who were told to expect arousal side effects (heart palpitations. given these results. In that study a majority of subjects receiving an adrenaline injection showed these physical symptoms of autonomic arousal without experiencing emotion. were much less likely to share the actor's mood. which at first may seem implausible. an adrenaline injection will result in emotion only if the aroused person does not know where his symptoms are coming from. One feels stirringsin the viscera and only then "realizes" that he is anxious. humor. subjects who had receiveda disguised adrenalineinjection interpretedtheir feelings as euphoria or anger. afraid. interpretation. a bear) and only then perceives that he is afraid. or natural hormonal charges can be labelled anything from euphoria. Some years later Cannon (1927. like Mara-non's subjects. Such a state can be induced experimentally by injecting a person with adrenaline. and other recognizable symptoms. Later experiments have shown that arousal created by drugs. but it should be remembered that other physiological changes might be involved as well. For example. Schachter thus concluded that another determinant was required for true emotion: a cognitive label. if the person is uninformed as to the origin of the change. any significant physiological change from equilibrium could have the effects which Schachter ascribes to arousal and. . physical exercise. face flushing. According to this two-factor theory. that at least some religious experiences are due to diffuse emotional states that are given a particular interpretation.ATTRIBUTION THEORY 319 stimulus (e.g. certain classical meditation exercises function to decrease heart rate and to dampen rather than arouse autonomic functions. Schachter decided that the main physiological determinant of emotional experience was not specific visceral or muscular stimulation but a general and diffuse pattern of excitement or arousal in the sympathetic nervous system." subjects sat in a room with another person. In a now classic study by Schachter and Singer (1962).

such a small fee". It seems that the children believed they painted for fun only if no rewards were given. As we shall see in our consideration of Weiner's theory of motivation. at least when viewed in experimental circumstances. while those who had received extrinsic rewards no longer cared about painting when prizes were not forthcoming. are practical ones that powerfully affect his future behavior. 1957). In one. children's intrinsic interest in new art materials was shown to be undermined if external rewards were offered for playing with the materials (Lepper. The important consequence was that children who believed themselves to be intrinsically interested continued to play with the art materials on their own when the experiment was over. (in the high incentive condition) "I must really not have believed the statement if they had to pay me so much to make it. is not always the bestjudge of the actual causes of his own behavior." Later experiments have provided other significant examples. to the extent that internal cues are weak. 1972) is concerned with the ways persons monitor themselves and form self-concepts. particular interpretations may affect future behavior which.320 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION Self-perception theory Self-perception theory (Bem. Bem showed that this might be due to an inference made by the experimental subjects on the basis of observing their own behavior. For our purposes it is sufficient to note that the individual himself. Festinger. In another. The central propositions of self-perception theory are as follows: Individuals come to "know"their own attitudes. an observer who must necessarilyrely upon those same cues to infer the individual's inner states (Bem. This theory has been used to explain results from a series of controversial attitudechange experiments originally designed to test the theory of cognitive dissonance (Brehm & Cohen. 1959). Greene. 1962. ambiguous. The judgments he makes. It had been discovered. but believed they painted mostly for extrinsic reasons when prizes were offered. however. These inferences might be expressed as follows: (in the low incentive condition) "I must have believed the statement I made if I was willing to make it for. & Nisbett. It can be seen as an extension of Schachter'snotion that persons interpretdiffuse physiological arousal in the light of the context in which they find themselves. . but intermittently throughout the course of all human activity. the individual is functionally in the same position as an outside observer. that people who are paid a small amount to make a counter-attitudinal statement will later agree more with the statement than will people paid a larger amount (Festinger and Carlsmith. Self-perception theory extends this notion of interpretation to include behavior as well as physiological arousal. calls for interpretation. Thus. 1971). 1973). 1972: 2). evaluative or interpretativeneeds are salient not only in situations of unexplained arousal states. in turn. Bem (1972) reviews many more studies which support self-perception theory. According to the theory. for example. or uninterpretable. emotions and other internal states partially by inferring them from observations of their own overt behavior and/or the circumstances in which this behavior occurs. children were induced to believe that they were moral by seeing themselves resist a forbidden toy (Lepper.

depending on the experimental condition to which they had been randomly assigned. half were low. 1966) is also potentially relevant to the study of religion. are more important than their own efforts in determining how their lives will proceed. The result of these differing attributions for success or failure is that. in differentdegrees." Actually. Low achievers tend to attribute success to easiness of the task. beyond his control. subjects took parts of an intelligence test (requiring eye-hand coordination). started to give up. and failure to low ability. startedto give up. while low achievers typically give up. the pill was completely without real effect.low achievers. Weiner and Sierad (1974) performed an experiment to see whether these characteristic attributions could be altered experimentally. High achievers in the "no pill" control groups increased their effort after failure and consequently performedbetter. His research indicates that high achievers tend to attribute successes and failures to effort. high achievers. an internal variable under their own control. Characteristic behavior patterns were reversed by manipulating the situation so that differentinterpretationsseemed appropriate. This was in accord with the results of earlier studies. One of the functions of religious doctrines and symbols is the attribution of power and responsibility for particularevents to the actor or to natural or supernaturalforces which are. The main purpose of the experiment was to determine what effects the pill. following a failure.ATTRIBUTION THEORY 32 1 Weiner'sAttributional Approach to Motivation An important personality dimension described as "internalversus external locus of control of reinforcement" (Rotter. and were made to believe that they were performing poorly. however. The results were striking. an internalvariable that is not under their own control. high achievers typically try harder in an attempt to succeed through increased effort. an external variable. In the "pill"condition. would have on performance. perhaps relieved that they did not have to blame themselves for failure. apparently believing that effort would no longer assure success. or some external force such as chance or luck. If we can understandthe conditions . The experimenter led the "pill"subjects to believe that the drug they had ingested might interfere with "psychomotor coordination. Subjects were either given a placebo pill or not. This experiment provides direct evidence for the claim that differential attributions have important consequences for behavior. Weiner (1972) has incorporated this dimension into an attribution theory of achievement motivation. People who score at the external end think that other people's decisions. People who score at the internal end of the dimension tend to believe that they are responsible for most of what happens in their lives. perceived as an external block on success. while low achievers. The method used was adapted from some of Schachter's experiments. Rotter and several subsequent investigators have found that scores on the internalexternal dimension predict a wide range of attitudes and behaviors. continued to make an effort. on the other hand. they believe that decisions and effort on their part definitely make a difference. from level of aspiration in achievement situations to participation in civil rights demonstrations. Half of the subjects in each condition were high in achievement motivation (as determined earlier by personality tests). Following this manipulation.

A thought arises in his mind: What can it mean? He sees clearly a passage in Romans which confirms the attribution of his stirrings to the Holy Spirit. I beganto feelexceedingly happyandhumble. Moreover. ATTRIBUTION PROCESSES AND RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE A Classic Case of Conversion Attribution theory is attractive to the student of religion because. Bradleyhad been impressed.andas lightas if somecandlelightedwasheldfor meto readthe26th with and and 27th versesof that chapter. Eventually this leads Bradleyto "defy all the Deists and Atheists in the world to shake (his) faith in . unlike other theoretical approaches in psychology. it deals directly with a person's interpretationof his own experience. He looks to discover the cause of it and. and my likea personin distress. or mine at least. I wentdirectly deluded to to whatmademefeelso stupid. Bradley notices his heart-rate suddenly increase. whenI got homeI wondered and thattold me so. but claimed that his feelings were unmoved.whichmademeat firstthink for thatperhaps is something goingto ail me.and it appeared mejustas if the NewTestament placedopenbeforeme.andfeltindifferent thingsof after. religion the followingmanner: At first. some of the phenomena already studied in the laboratory bear striking resemblance to phenomena described by religious writers.322 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION under which such attributions are made."and thus present no need for alarm.Bradley had just returned from a revival service in which the preacherhad been unusually forceful..Hadanypersontoldmeprevious thisthatI couldhaveexperienced powerof theHoly whichI did. But he still must make sense of this force. mademegroan groanings whichwasnot veryeasy to stop.I beganto feel my heartbeatveryquickall of a sudden. and that he mightget to sleep.I told him my in maydo somegoodto all whoshallreadit. of eighthchapter Romans. thought arose in my mind. and I now defy all the Deists and Atheists in the world to shakemy faithin Christ(James. The palpitations are attributed to an external force. and as on me." allthetimethatmyheart a beating. presented at length by James in the Varieties. and askedme if I hadgot the toothache. Bradley's testimony reads like a textbook example designed to illustrate Schachter's theory. Spiritin themanner homeafterthemeeting. of and I nowfeelas if I haddischarged dutybytellingthetruth.. as if to answerit. we can increase our knowledge of the ways in which these symbols and doctrines function. attributes it to the Holy Spirit. I readthesewords:"TheSpirithelpethour infirmities it was And whichcannotbeuttered. I felt no whichbeganin aboutfiveminutes by untilI beganto be exercised the HolySpirit. Let us take as one example the conversion experience of Stephen Bradley.. I couldnot havebelieved andshouldhavethoughttheperson it. brotherbeingin bed in anotherroomcameand openedthe door. hopebytheblessing God. of I will now relatemy experience the powerof the Holy Spiritwhichtook placeon thesame the to night. which he judges to be the cause of his palpitations. thoughI was not alarmed.what can it mean?and all at once. not to "pain"or an "ailment. thoughI wasin no painat all.but it did not stop until I felt as if I was a full unutterably of the love and graceof God. He hasfulfilledHispromise sendingthe HolySpirit down into our hearts. in the context of having just returned from a revival service.I retired restsoon afterI got home..My heart me whichsoonconvinced thatis wasthe HolySpiritfromtheeffectit had in increased its beating. My heartseemedas if it wouldburst. basing his sermon on a text from the book of Revelation.. sucha senseof unworthiness I never felt before. my memorybecame to was exceedingly clear. In the meantimewhilethusexercised.1902:190-193).

Suddenly a sound came from heaven. The setting was a religious one. accusing the disciples of drunkenness. noting the early hour. and others to suggest that the chance discovery of natural hallucinogens might have provided the basic experience which underlies all notions of the sacred. The content of the scripture and the experience of being moved or physiologically aroused were confidently linked together. These are the two components of emotion described by Schachter. In the setting of a Good Friday service. or the goals of religious striving. Bradley. along with the research of Wasson (1971). Many have cited Pahnke's experiment. could not understand his feelings in naturalistic terms." What began as a mysterious emotional experience ends with attributional certainty. He did not consider explanations involving Krishna. nicotinic acid. and your old men shall dream dreams"(Acts 2:17). Some observers provided a naturalistic explanation. the holy. The experience of Pentecost among the disciples of Jesus may be amenable to a similar interpretation. But Peter. Acts 2:12-13). saying to one another. like so many prospective devotees before and since. Pahnke (1966) attempted to induce experimentally some form of mystical experience with the aid of psilocybin. Religious symbols offered him an explanation that was compatible with both his experience and his former beliefs. and the disciples experienced voices speaking through them. and your young men shall see visions.ATTRIBUTION THEORY 32 3 Christ. Bowker employs Schachter'stheory to argue that . and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. As in Schachter's experiments. The results of a recent controversial experiment in the psychology of religion can also be reinterpretedin the light of the theory. a tradition and a conviction which had recently been threatened by Jesus' death and apparent defeat. God declares. the disciples were gathered together for the first time since Jesus' death. It is provided in order to account for an arousing experience that was unsought and unexplained. Such an interpretation relates the disciples' shared experience to the tradition of Yahweh's promise and their conviction of its fulfillment in Jesus. This interpretationcarries the authority of the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. subjects received either psilocybin or a mild control drug. that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. It seems likely that religious symbols and doctrines often serve as labels for experiences of arousal which initially appear to be anomalous. or the Koran. The results showed that the subjects receiving the hallucinogen labelled their experiences in religious terms to a significantly greater extent than those who had received the mild dose of nicotinic acid. rejects this interpretation and quotes from the words of the prophet Joel: "And in the last days it shall be. such as the effects of hallucinogens. Bowker (1973) has recently appealed to Schachter's studies of emotion in order to criticize attempts to account for religion by appeal to some physiological mechanism. and that they reported significantly greater coincidence of their experience with nine characteristics previously gleaned from reports of classical mystics. Zeus. individuals seek plausible explanations for their feelings among whatever explanations are available in the environment. 'Whatdoes this mean?'" (Revised Standard Version. As Luke describes it. LaBarre(1972). We have cited two literary examples which can be illuminated by the use of attribution theory. Luke reports that "All were amazed and perplexed.

omitted in the published accounts. Perhaps it was the excitement of the revival meeting. The notion that the setting is influential in forming the experience is one that Pahnke and other experimentershave always affirmed. Bowker calls attention to the fact. Attribution theory would suggest that labelling and interpretation are fundamental to religious experience. uncertainty. This raises serious questions about Pahnke's inference that mystical experience is caused by some quality of hallucinogens. the agent of arousal has been isolated by experimental manipulation. But most have not been willing to claim that the activity of the psychedelic agents is limited to diffuse physiological change. our information is insufficient to account for his initial arousal. with the focus on a different dependent variable. What might be responsible for the initial arousal or turmoil required by the attribution approach in "natural"settings in which religious experiences are reported? Many exotic religious systems emphasizing disciplines aiming at mystical experience . but that a cognitive interpretation is needed in order to provide a religious experience. resentment. Zaehner mistakenly posits substantial distinctions between different mystical experiences and ignores the role of interpretation and cultural factors in producing diverse doctrinal results from a common experience. was randomly selected for the experimental condition. In the case of Stephen Bradley. The issues raised or dramatized by such experimentation are fundamental to an understanding of religious experience. Anger. and did not report any of the characteristics of religious experience. For example. bracketing in so far as possible any interpretativestructure of their own. The attributional or interpretativecomponent appears to be the crucial factor in an experience that is felt to be religious. A related point appears in Smart's (1966) critique of Zaehner's (1957) typology of mysticisms. despair. phenomenologists of religion have attempted to describe the fundamental characteristics of the experience of the holy or the sacred. While one subject is statistically unimportant. In the case of the disciples. Pahnke's experimental design can be seen as parallel to that of Schachter.324 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION hallucinogens might account for some cases of physiological arousal. According to Smart. It may be the case that Pahnke's psilocybin functioned only as a rather powerful agent of autonomic arousal. The subject was unwilling to adopt the attributions suggested by the context. and the excitement and mutual support of being reunited may all have been involved. in the setting of the religious festival of Pentecost. the case does provide some evidence for a Schachterian interpretation. and to manipulate the cognitive setting. fear. it is not surprisingthat their first meeting following the death of their teacher. The study of such experiences in abstraction from the interpretations is not the study of the experience at all. though he claims to have been unaffected at the time. and thus the psychedelic experience was not labelled mystical or religious. Pahnke sought a constant cognitive context (the Good Friday service)and manipulated the arousal agent. differing only quantitatively from the arousal provided by the nicotinic acid. In the case of the Good Friday experiment. should be a moving one. that one of Pahnke's subjects seems to have been immune to the effects of the hallucinogens because of a firmly held naturalistic interpretation. Schachter attempted to hold the arousal agent constant.This subject was skeptical from the outset. thus leading him to attribute different experimential reports to that agent.

Even for Japanese members. fervently chanting meaningless syllables before a "black box. a black box containing a small scroll on which is printed a copy of a mandala by Nichiren. impressionistic. A typical meeting of an American Nichiren group consists of about an hour of chanting. and to reflect on the meaning and value of that work. the phraseis a title which has no propositional meaning ("Adoration to the Lotus of the Wonderful Law"). and experimentation with drugs. A Contemporary Example: Nichiren Shoshu We and our students have recently been observing various religious groups in New York City in order to see how well attribution theory seems to fit the phenomena of religious experience. it is committed to spreading the message that salvation can be attained by faith in the Lotus Sutra. and thus render relatively insignificant." A Buddhist sect. and because they include explicit attention to the relation between belief and action. Nichiren Shoshu is one of the fastest growing of Japan's "new religions. followed by a strong appeal for commitment from the new prospects. 1975). adolescence is characterized by release from the constraints of familial and traditional authorities. middle-aged crises. Common to adolescence. the experience of meaninglessness in one's vocation. Religious systems are particularlyattractiveat such times because they are total systems.ATTRIBUTION THEORY 325 are attractive to adolescents and post-adolescents. We will focus briefly on one group of particular interest. conflicting demands and pressures. Thus. It is understandable that such crises would be more acute for the educated person who is much more likely to have seen his work as vocation rather than occupation. and particularlyamong those who are relatively well educated (Greeley & McCready. new sexual experiences. and the facing of death is the breakdown of ordinary cognitive systems of action and rules for the resolution of conflict. In this society. and especially by repeated chanting of the title of that sutra: Nam myoho renge kyo." . providing comprehensive interpretations of experience which preempt. questions and answers about the doctrine and practice of the movement. The central activity of both public and private worship (chanting the Daimoku) is completely standardized and. Such observations are crude. Experiences of this sort in the face of imminent death or the threat of death have been reported frequently. the devotee begins with an attributional tabula rasa. is almost free of cognitive content. testimonials. The contents of the sutra itself. but they may eventually lead to more rigorous tests of our ideas. The chanting is directed toward the Gohonzon. The emphasis on testimonials provides an opportunity to hear different members of the group interpret their own experience within the supportive context of the meeting. additional chanting. for Americans. Any or all of these might produce states of diffuse tension and arousal which appear to the adolescent to have no clear explanation. Recent evidence shows a high incidence of reports of mystical experience among middle aged males. and the lack of commitment to goals which have been uncritically striven for in earlier years. often accompanied by resentment or anger. there has been a spate of articles reporting and describing the crises of middle age. and subjectto bias. At this same time in our culture. of which this is the title. Nichiren Shoshu. a short break for sidewalk evangelism (shakubuku). the conflicts and cares of mundane life. remain unknown to most American adherents.

stemming (we would say) from test anxiety. Many religious communities urge prospective converts to engage in ritual action or discipline before they acquaint themselves with the beliefs of the religion. He was unable to concentrate and perceived himself as failing. The obsessive focus on the self ." Curiosity about the belief system is initially discouraged. Emphasis is placed entirely on the efficacy of the activity. If one decides to try this "experimentally" one hundreddays. which encouraged him to make similar interpretations and reports thereafter. chanting "Hare krishna"or "Nam myoho renge kyo. we were told that this should concern us only after we had experienced the power of the Gohonzon to produce benefits in our lives. is reinterpretedas "being out of harmony with the universe. the leader invited a new prospect to chant for just one hundred days and see what would happen. The physiological arousal. Yogic exercises. Notice the similarity between this experience and the case of high test anxiety subjects in Weiner and Sierad'sexperiment who were given an external reason for failure. he began to chant "Nam myoho renge kyo" and put his trust in the rhythm of the universe. and later attributed increased significance to these activities in order to make sense of their actions. and it allows one to give up the struggle and let the burden be borne by the rhythms of the universe. "Tryit." ingesting drugs or embarking on pilgrimages to sacred shrines are all examples. His report was greeted with enthusiastic applause by his fellow chanters. They could relax and keep trying since the outcome would not directly reflect on them anyway. Chanting involves. according to his report. the rearrangementof his life and the persistent chanting. an hour or more both for morning and evening. Each of these engages an individual.326 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION The service opens with an hour of chanting which appears to arouse the devotees and to create a strong sense of participation in a group effort. This relatively simple testimony. When we inquired about the meaning of the chant. he became calm and the answers came to him as if from outside. Such a view is related to Bem's interpretation of the experiments in which subjects engaged in activities with insufficient justification. A young man explained that he had recently suffered from test anxiety during a college math exam. Once involved in action. martial arts. At one session we attended. Suddenly. he is more susceptible to the appropriation of beliefs to justify his activity and to explain his feelings. which cannot be justified on any other grounds. typical of experiences and interpretationsin many religious traditions. and for which they as yet have insufficientjustification. This suggests that the beliefs eventually satisfy adherents because they make sense of an activity to which they have already committed themselves. The testimonials are especially interesting from our point of view. Once the attribution is made. Two examples from one meeting will be recounted here. It is likely that after a hundred days the potential convert will be attracted by a set of beliefs which give meaning to the "meaningless"activity in which he has been engaged and around which he has reordered his life. initially. combines both the labelling of a state of physiological arousal and the attribution of causality to an external source. presents a surd which is quite salient to him. It will change your life. The activity is strongly commended to the prospective convert with only the most rudimentaryjustification. confirming evidence is much easier to find. Rather than simply giving up or fighting himself to gain control of his attention."Chanting is therefore indicated.

We of to notedearlierthatexternalattributions a similar of kindcansuccessfully overcome test anxiety.It is tempting to findshelterin a symbolicsystemthatofferscleargoalsanda systematic of ordering the events of one's life.prayer.Nichiren Shoshu.She was elatedand attributed good fortuneto her continuedchanting.Afterthefact.& Seligman. 1974). Hisanswer but maynot be ours. The Judeo-Christian tradition has increasinglyemphasizedthe of responsibility the individual.and fulfillment to submitto a readymadesysternf.or hoc explanations. A secondtestimonial givenby a youngwomanwho had beenchanting two was for years when she was strickenby severe asthma. suchsystemshavea theodicywhichenablesthe devoteeto interpret eventsthatare as potentiallydiscouraging furtherevidencefor the truth of the systemand for the efficacyof appropriate religiousaction.the convert but will be more willingto put his trustin the efficacyof the chant whenevera similar situationarises. values.the Ching.successis the to attributed an outsidepower.Thiswillingness trustmayat first be bornout of despairat no otheralternative. Recent cults celebratingKrishnaconsciousness.but thisprocessdependson trustin an external to power.and the Jesus movementall sharethe characteristic thatdevoteesareencouraged giveup the struggle personal to for meaning. as shown in an experimentby Weinerand Sierad (1974)and a Nichiren testimonial.Anythingnegativethathappensis attributed to bad karmaor the forces of evil.the problemis one of . this example is quite representative statements of madeby adherents most religious of systems. sacrifice.On the contrary. studentsof religiondo not sufferfroma dearthof armchair. Manyof the religioussystemscurrently are gainingin popularity characterized by their encouragement devotees to attributeresponsibility externalforces. relaxation occurs.A changed cognitivesetproduces relaxedstate. OF POSSIBILITY FURTHERRESEARCH We haveshownthatattribution theorycan provideplausible post hoc accountsof particular reportsof religious But experience. and can be counteredonly by chanting. approximately fortypercentagreedthat"Godalwaysanswers prayer.Whenaskedby a the skepticalmemberof the audiencewhy she had contracted asthmaafterchantingfor two years.she repliedin all seriousness.Most. experiencesmore are diverse.andchoicesaredemanded withfewerguidelines thanin thepast.Thereis also recentevidencefor the reliefof the symptomsof reactive depressionby externalattributions(Klein. She continuedto chant and was fortunateenoughto find a clinicin Manhattan whereherasthmawascured.Even among the well educatedand unusuallynontraditional group of forty thousand respondantsstudied by Wuthnow and Glock (1974). and of Attribution responsibility the for flow of eventsis shiftedfrom the isolatedego to the stars." Although humorous.the Lord."Suchflexibleandcomprehensive of attributions sets allowpeopleto "discover" orderin seeminglychaoticand arbitrary streamsof events.if not all. Fencil-Morse.or the chant.astrology. followingone success.the ritual.The needto removethe mantleof responsibility be particularly may strongfor individuals in our culture.ATTRIBUTION THEORY 327 of and andits possibility failingis removed.the I Ching. "Youdon'tknowhow muchbadkarmaI had to work out of my previous life.Supportivestructures fewer.

A particular interpretation is given up only in exchange for another. important in the . In each condition a third of the subjects could be exposed to a context that emphasized a particular set of religious symbols (e.g.ethics permitting . Attribution theory. and that this labelling may take forms which either are or are not traditionally associated with religious symbol systems. Conversions from such a system would follow much the same form as conversion to the system. provides a natural path into the realm of religion. Subjects in the naturalistic condition would tend to interpret their feelings in naturalistic terms. Subjects who had been randomly assigned to informed. should not be seen as a gradual diminishing of concerns with ultimate meaning."naturalistic setting. Only careful measurement and a degree of experimental control can accomplish this. Of course. then. rather than less. hypotheses derived from attribution theory could also be tested in natural settings. The dissolution of religious faith. an Indian setting in which a guru was instructing his devotees). uninformed.g. caffeine) in controlled setting. Both would result from anomalous experiences followed by self perception and monitoring.might receive a disguised agent of arousal (e. Taking cues from Schachter. Some contend that religion is declining. The remaining subjects would be placed in a more "neutral. In general. This is just an example . and misinformed conditions . we would expect uninformed subjects in the two religious attribution conditions to feel "moved" and attribute their response to the context in which they found themselves.328 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION discriminating among an embarrassing wealth of hypotheses.. if it is to account for the beliefs and explanations of real people. and evaluation. If the arousal agent were properly disguised. Some of the diaries clearly show that people. and the settings properly constructed. As Bowker (1973) has argued. just as contemporary agnostic meditators interpret the relaxing effects of meditation. it cannot omit consideration of religious claims.. experimental studies of religion could be modeled after several of the more important attribution experiments. In fact. For example. but as the adoption of a new set of attributions. ultimately leading to the adoption of a new set of attributions. begin to interpret the causes of feelings and events in their lives in terms of the power of chanting. social scientists have been divided on the issue of secularization. a Christianpentecostal worship service) and a third to a context in which another set of symbols was salient (e. it should be possible to transform such a study into a true experiment. This fact will no doubt have implications for the study of religion as well as for psychology. Some of the other diaries show how cynicism or commitment to naturalistic explanations blocks the attribution of special powers to chanting. recent work in the social sciences has made concern with cognitive claims and their evaluation more. while others claim that only its forms are changing.perhaps an oversimplified one. Recently we conducted a pilot study in which several young adults were asked to chant daily and keep diaries describing their experiences.g. even without the support offered by authentic Nichiren groups.. We described earlier the ways in which some members of Nichiren Shoshu come to interpret events in their lives as evidence for the efficacy chanting. with its emphasis on beliefs and interpretations of experience. purpose. We would argue that the labelling and interpretationof experience is perennial.

January 26.. attribution theory directs the attention of researchers to the cognitive claims of believers. 1927 "The James-Lange theory of emotions: a critical examination and an alternative Journal of American theory. Lepper.New York: Norton. II. Stanford: Stanford University Press. REFERENCES Bellah." In D. Stanford University. W. Cannon. Douglas. 1967 "Attribution theory in social psychology. J. W. D." Unpublished manuscript. this cognitive emphasis is characteristic of many recent theories in the social sciences. 1970 Beyond Belief New York: Harper and Row. C. The consideration of the relative validity of conflicting theoretical interpretations. 1966 Purity and Danger. New York: Dell. Jr. B. Greene. self-perception and honesty in children. B. H. 1974 "Learned helplessness. H. New York: Longmans. the importance of philosophical and theological interpretiveschemes may be defended by social scientists at a time when many students of religion are attempting to explain religious beliefs in terms of non-cognitive needs and forces. R. 1959 "Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. W. and attending to questions of the truth or falsity of beliefs. A. New York: Doubleday. J. Lepper. Festinger.). M. Levine (ed. R. 1902 The Varieties of Religious Experience. Vol." In G. 1975 "Are we a nation of mystics?" The New York Times Magazine. and Co. S. New York: Doubleday. As Bowker (1973) has shown. theory. are being restored to their central place in the understanding of religion. Outka and J. New York: Wiley. Greeley. depression. and Cohen. Klein. 1963 Structural Anthropology. B. L. 1890 The Principles of Psychology. J. C. E. Reeder. M. 1962 Explorations in Cognitive Dissonance. Religion and Morality. Vol. and Carlsmith. D. Green.weighing of evidence. 1958 YoungMan Luther.. 1929 Bodily Changes in Pain. New York: Henry Holt. 1972 The Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion. M." Psychology 39:106-24.). E. While neutral with respect to the ultimate validity of religious beliefs. M. W. 1225. 1957 A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 28:129-137. R. D. New York: Academic Press. Bem. James. & Twiss. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. C. . 1972 "Self-perception in (Ed. and the attribution of failure. N. and McCready. (Eds. of University Pennsylvania." In L. Erikson. Little. and Nisbett.. Fencil-Morse. BowKer.. and Seligman. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. A." Unpublished manuscript. Oxford: Oxford University Press. M.ATTRIBUTION THEORY 329 study of religion.).J." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 58:203-210.). Geertz. R. 1973 The Interpretation of Cultures. D. 1971 "Dissonance. Cannon. New York: Basic Books.. Jr.. Levi-Strauss. 1973 The Sense of God. 6:1-62. though it has not recently been the dominant trend in the study of religion. C. Garden City. Advances Berkowitz Experimental Social Psychology. L. La Barre. 1974 "Basic terms in the study of religious ethics. Department of Psychology. Hunger. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation.. E. Brehm. Festinger. M. Kelley. W.. (2nd ed. Fear and Rage. P. Department of Psychology. 1973 "Undermining children's intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: a test of the 'overjustification' hyposthesis. James. Ironically. E. New York: Appleton. W.

S. God in the gut.. K. Whole No. 1966 "Drugs and mysticism.). 1975 An Introduction to Attribution Theory. Chicago: Markham. 1972 Theories of Motivation: From Mechanism to Cognition. W. Smart. C." Psychological Monographs 80:1-28 (1. G. Pahnke. . J. Obesity and Crime. and Sierad." Religious Studies 1:75-87. Schachter. B. G. C." Revue Francaise d'Endocrinologie 2:301-25. social.330 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION Wasson. New Jersey: General Learning Press. Achievement Motivation and Attribution Theory." Psychological Review 69:379-399. Shaver. Weiner (Ed. Weiner. Y. Cambridge. Zaehner. New York: Academic Press. Wuthnow. and physiological determinants of emotional state. Oxford: Clarendon Press. E. 1971 "The Soma of the Rig Veda: What was itT' Journal of the American Oriental Society 91:169-187. Rotter. Massachusetts: Winthrop Publishers. Marafnon. J. 1966 "Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. 1957 Mysticism Sacred and Profane. Weiner. S. and Singer. B." International Journal of Parapsychology 8:295-320. J.. and mystical 1965 "Interpretation experience. N. 1974 "Misattribution for failure and the enhancement of achievement strivings." Psychology Today 8:131-136. 1971 Emotion. R. 1924 "Contribution a l'etude de l'action emotive de l'adrenaline. and Glock. B." In B. R. 1962 "Cognitive. R. 1974 "The shifting focus of faith: A survey report. Morristown. Schachter.G. 609).

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful