The Economics of Faith: Using an Apocalyptic Prophecy to Elicit Religious Beliefs in the Field
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.
We would like to thank Carla Roa and Annika Todd for their generous and invaluable help running the experiment. We would also like to thank Family Radio and the San Francisco Central Seventh-Day Adventist Church for allowing us access to their members. We thank Scott Nicholson, Andy Rose, Noam Yuchtman, and Reed Walker for helpful comments. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Ned Augenblick & Jesse M. Cunha & Ernesto Dal Bó & Justin M. Rao, 2016. "The economics of faith: using an apocalyptic prophecy to elicit religious beliefs in the field," Journal of Public Economics, vol 141, pages 38-49. citation courtesy of