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May God Guide Our Guns


The perceived support of supernatural agents has been historically, ethnographically, and theoretically linked with confidence in engaging in violent intergroup conflict. However, scant experimental investigations of such links have been reported to date, and the extant evidence derives largely from indirect laboratory methods of limited ecological validity. Here, we experimentally tested the hypothesis that perceived supernatural aid would heighten inclinations toward coalitional aggression using a realistic simulated coalitional combat paradigm: competitive team paintball. In a between-subjects design, US paintball players recruited for the study were experimentally primed with thoughts of supernatural support using a guided visualization exercise analogous to prayer, or with a control visualization of a nature scene. The participants then competed in a team paintball battle game modeled after "Capture the Flag." Immediately before and after the battle, participants completed surveys assessing confidence in their coalitional and personal battle performance. Participants assessed their coalition's prospects of victory and performance more positively after visualizing supernatural aid. Participants primed with supernatural support also reported inflated assessments of their own performance. Importantly, however, covarying increases in assessments of their overall coalition's performance accounted for the latter effect. This study provided support for the hypothesis that perceived supernatural support can heighten both prospective confidence in coalitional victory and retrospective confidence in the combat performance of one's team, while highlighting the role of competitive play in evoking the coalitional psychology of intergroup conflict. These results accord with and extend convergent prior findings derived from laboratory paradigms far removed from the experience of combat. Accordingly, the field study approach utilized here shows promise as a method for investigating coalitional battle dynamics in a realistic, experientially immersive manner.

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