After God’s image: prayer leads people with positive God beliefs to read less hostility in others’ eyes

Marieke Meijer-van Abbema*, Sander L. Koole

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Across cultures and historical periods, people have attributed human traits to the divine. Because of the similarity between people’s mental representations of God and their mental representations of others, people’s perceptions of God may carry over to people’s perceptions of others, especially when people have recently thought about God. Two experiments examined whether priming God images through prayer leads people who believe in a benign God to view social targets in a more favorable light. In Experiment 1 (N = 57), Dutch Christians either prayed for or thought about a person, and then judged the emotions of others in the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. The results showed that prayer led participants to read fewer hostile emotions in others’ eyes, whereas prayer had no effect on perceiving positive emotions or non-hostile negative emotions. Experiment 2 (N = 50) extended this finding by showing that prayer only reduced social perceptions of hostility among participants with a positive God image. Thus, beliefs in a benign God may enhance interpersonal trust among believers, but only when God beliefs are cognitively accessible. These findings suggest that positive God beliefs may help to promote prosocial attitudes and cooperation within religious communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-222
Number of pages17
JournalReligion, Brain and Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017


  • God
  • image
  • mindreading
  • perception prayer
  • prosocial
  • Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test
  • trust


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