The Economics of Faith: Using an Apocalyptic Prophecy to Elicit Religious Beliefs in the Field
NBER Working Paper No. 18641
We model religious faith as a "demand for beliefs," following the logic of the Pascalian wager. We then demonstrate how an experimental intervention can exploit standard elicitation techniques to measure religious belief by varying prizes associated with making choices contrary to one's belief in a, crucially, falsifiable religious proposition. We implemented this approach with a group that expected the "End of the World" to happen on May 21, 2011 by offering prizes payable before and after May 21st. The results suggest the existence of a demand for extreme, sincere beliefs that was unresponsive to experimental manipulations in price.
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