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A new study conducted by Penn professors found that people’s attitudes about sex are a better indicator of how religious they are than their attitudes about lying and stealing.

Professor Robert Kurzban and senior researcher Jason Weeden, both in the Penn Department of Psychology, have recently conducted a study about factors that predict the level at which people are religious.

Their results indicate that reproductive morals, such as attitudes about casual sex, abortion or homosexuality, are more indicative of religion’s role in a person’s life than cooperative morals, such as lying in self-interest, stealing or accepting a bribe. People who are against abortion and object to casual sex and homosexuality tend to be more religious and vice versa.

According to the study, in New Zealand, Austria, North America and Western Europe, a person’s reproductive morals are six times more likely to predict religiosity than differences in cooperative morals.

“If you know what people think about casual sex, abortion, et cetera, then you can make a good guess about how religious they are,” Weeden said. “But you don’t learn much more about how religious they are by also knowing what they think about lying, stealing, et cetera.”

Weeden and Kurzban used public data from the World Values Survey, a research project exploring the values and beliefs of people worldwide. The WVS was administered to almost 300,000 people in around 90 countries over the last 20 years.

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The study was a test of the cooperation theory of religion. “[This is] the theory that religion exists to keep people honest within groups,” Weedon said . ”[It exists] to encourage them not to lie and steal by getting them to believe that there are these invisible agents who monitor them and will be upset it they break the rules.”

According to Weeden, in this way, the relationship between cooperation and religion is “central and fundamental.”

Weeden said this study is “bad news” for the theory, since it shows that the correlations between cooperative morals and religiosity in the WVS are “trivial” compared with the correlations between reproductive morals and religiosity, a conclusion also supported by Weedon’s previous work.

Student religious leaders on campus were not surprised by the study results.

“This makes sense,” College senior and President of Penn Newman Catholic Center’s Undergraduate Board Kaitlyn Kutschera said. According to Kutschera, the standard way of measuring religiosity is how often a person attends services because “it’s easiest to measure.”

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College senior and Penn Hillel President Josh Cooper agreed with Kutschera. “Religion manifests itself in people’s lives in different ways,” he said. He explained that correlation between religion and attitudes, then, is understandable since religion can affect so many aspects of life.

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