• Religion;
  • Concepts;
  • Recall;
  • Distinctiveness


Presents results of free-recall experiments conducted in France, Gabon and Nepal, to test predictions of a cognitive model of religious concepts. The world over, these concepts include violations of conceptual expectations at the level of domain knowledge (e.g., about ‘animal’ or ‘artifact’ or ‘person’) rather than at the basic level. In five studies we used narratives to test the hypothesis that domain-level violations are recalled better than other conceptual associations. These studies used material constructed in the same way as religious concepts, but not used in religions familiar to the subjects. Experiments 1 and 2 confirmed a distinctiveness effect for such material. Experiment 3 shows that recall also depends on the possibility to generate inferences from violations of domain expectations. Replications in Gabon (Exp. 4) and Nepal (Exp. 5) showed that recall for domain-level violations is better than for violations of basic-level expectations. Overall sensitivity to violations is similar in different cultures and produces similar recall effects, despite differences in commitment to religious belief, in the range of local religious concepts or in their mode of transmission. However, differences between Gabon and Nepal results suggest that familiarity with some types of domain-level violations may paradoxically make other types more salient. These results suggest that recall effects may account for the recurrent features found in religious concepts from different cultures.