Religious belief is often thought to motivate violence because it is said to promote norms that encourage tribalism and the devaluing of the lives of nonbelievers. If true, this should be visible in the multigenerational violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis which is marked by a religious divide. We conducted experiments with a representative sample of Muslim Palestinian youth (n = 555), examining whether thinking from the perspective of Allah (God), who is the ultimate arbitrator of religious belief, changes the relative value of Jewish Israelis’ lives (compared with Palestinian lives). Participants were presented with variants of the classic “trolley dilemma,” in the form of stories where a man can be killed to save the lives of five children who were either Jewish Israeli or Palestinian. They responded from their own perspective and from the perspective of Allah. We find that whereas a large proportion of participants were more likely to endorse saving Palestinian children than saving Jewish Israeli children, this proportion decreased when thinking from the perspective of Allah. This finding raises the possibility that beliefs about God can mitigate bias against other groups and reduce barriers to peace.
Author Affiliations: Department of Psychology, New School for Social Research, New York, NY 10011; ARTIS International, New York, NY 10010; Institut Jean Nicod, Ecole Normale Supérieure, CNRS, F-75005 Paris, France; John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, NY 10019; School of Social Anthropology and Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3TD, United Kingdom; Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213