Trust, Cooperation, and Religious Signaling

Project summary: The performance of costly ritual behavior has posed a genuine challenge for those who employ evolutionary and other egoistic-based models to explain human behavioral variation. Researchers from diverse disciplines have suggested that rituals and other religious behaviors serve as costly signals of an individual’s commitment to a religious group, and some have argued that increased levels of commitment facilitate intra-group cooperation and trust. This project is aimed at testing these claims and further developing the signaling theory of religious behavior. Empirical research has included experimental, ethnohistorical, and cross-cultural studies.


Funding: Pinhas Sapir Center for Development, Russell Sage Foundation, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Ushi Friedman Grant Foundation, U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (2000 & 2005), University of Connecticut



Forthcoming Sosis, Richard. The ABC’s of Evolutionary Signaling Theory and Religion, in The Routledge Handbook of Evolutionary Approaches to Religion, eds. Yair Lior and Justin Lane. London: Routledge Press.
2020 Ruffle, Bradley and Richard Sosis. Do religious contexts elicit more trust and altruism? Evidence from decision-making scenario experiments. Journal of Religion in Economics and Management 1: 2050002.
2019 John Shaver, Chris Sibley, Richard Sosis, Dean Galbraith, and Joseph Bulbulia Alloparenting and Religious Fertility: A Test of the Religious Alloparenting Hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior 40: 315-324.
2019 Barker, Jessica, Eleanor Power, Stephen Heap, Mikael Puurtinen, and Richard Sosis Content, Cost, and Context: A Framework for Understanding Human Signaling Systems. Evolutionary Anthropology 28: 86-99.
2019 Sosis, Richard Do Religions Promote Cooperation? Testing Signaling Theories of Religion, In The Cognitive Science of Religion: A Methodological Introduction to Key Empirical Studies, eds. Jason Slone and William McCorkle, pp 155-162. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Press.
2018 Shaver, John and Richard Sosis Costly signaling in human cultures, in International Encyclopedia of Anthropology: Evolutionary and Biosocial Perspectives in Anthropology, ed. H. Callan, pp 205-207. London: Wiley-Blackwell.
2018 Shaver, John, Susie Divietro, Martin Lang, and Richard Sosis Costs do not explain trust among secular groups. Journal of Cognition and Culture 18, 180-204.
2016 McCullough, Michael, Paul Swartwout, John Shaver, Evan Carter, and Richard Sosis Christian Religious Badges Instill Trust in Christian and Non-Christian Perceivers. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 8: 149-163.
2016 Shaver, John, Benjamin Purzycki, and Richard Sosis Evolutionary Theory and the Study of Religion. In The Oxford Handbook of the Study of Religion, eds. M. Stausberg and S. Engler, pp. 124-136. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2015 Bulbulia, Joseph, John Shaver, Laura Greaves, Richard Sosis, Christopher Sibley Religion and parental cooperation: an empirical test of Slone’s sexual signaling model, in The Attraction of Religion: A New Evolutionary Psychology of Religion, eds. J. Slone and J. Van Slyke, pp. 29-62. London: Bloomsbury Press.
2014 Shaver, John and Richard Sosis How does male ritual behavior vary across the lifespan? An examination of Fijian kava ceremonies. Human Nature 25: 136-160.
2014 Sosis, Richard and Jordan Kiper Religion is more than belief: What evolutionary theories of religion tell us about religious commitment, in Challenges to Religion and Morality: Disagreements and Evolution, eds. M. Bergmann and P. Kain, pp. 256-276. New York: Oxford University Press.
2014 Shariff, Azim, Benjamin Purzycki, and Richard Sosis Religions as Cultural Solutions to Social Living, in Culture Reexamined: Broadening Our Understanding of Social and Evolutionary Influences, ed. A.B. Cohen, pp. 217-238. Washington, DC: APA Books.
2012 Blumstein, DT, S. Atran, S. Field, M.E. Hochberg, D.P.P. Johnson, R. Sagarin, R. Sosis, and B. Thayer The Peacock’s Tail: Lessons from Evolution for Effective Signaling in International Politics. Cliodynamics 3:191–214.
2011 Bulbulia, Joseph and Richard Sosis Signaling Theory and the Evolution of Religions. Religion, 41(3): 363-388.
2011 Sosis, Richard and Joseph Bulbulia The Behavioral Ecology of Religion: The Benefits and Costs of One Evolutionary Approach. Religion 41(3), 341-362.
2011 Wildman, Wesley J. and Richard Sosis Stability of Groups with Costly Beliefs and Practices. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation. 14 (3) 6.
2010 Alcorta, Candace and Richard Sosis Signals and Rituals of Humans and Animals, in Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, ed. Marc Bekoff, pp. 519-523, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishers.
2009 Bulbulia, Joseph. and Richard Sosis Ideology as Affordance. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32:515-516.
2009 Purzycki, Benjamin and Richard Sosis The Religious System as Adaptive: Cognitive Flexibility, Public Displays, and Acceptance, in The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior, eds. Eckart Voland and Wulf Schiefenhovel, pp. 243-256, New York: Springer-Verlag Publishers.
2009 Sosis, Richard Why are Synagogue Services so Long? An Evolutionary Examination of Jewish Ritual Signals, in Judaism in Biological Perspective: Biblical Lore and Judaic Practices, ed. Rick Goldberg, pp. 199-233, Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.
2007 Alcorta, Candace and Richard Sosis Rituals of Humans and Animals, in Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships, vol. 2, ed. Marc Bekoff, pp. 599-605, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishers.
2007 Sosis, Richard, Howard Kress, and James Boster Scars for War: Evaluating Alternative Signaling Explanations for Cross-Cultural Variance in Ritual Costs. Evolution and Human Behavior 28: 234-247.
2007 Ruffle, Bradley and Richard Sosis Does it Pay to Pray? Costly Ritual and Cooperation. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy 7:1-35 (Article 18).
2006 Sosis, Richard Religious Behaviors, Badges, and Bans: Signaling Theory and the Evolution of Religion, in Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion, Volume 1: Evolution, Genes, and the Religious Brain, ed. Patrick McNamara, pp. 61-86, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
2005 Alcorta, Candace and Richard Sosis Ritual, Emotion, and Sacred Symbols: The Evolution of Religion as an Adaptive Complex. Human Nature 16: 323-359.
2005 Sosis, Richard Does Religion Promote Trust? The Role of Signaling, Reputation, and Punishment. Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 1: 1-30 (Article 7).
2004 Sosis, Richard The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual. American Scientist 92:166-172.
2004 Sosis, Richard and Candace Alcorta Is Religion Adaptive? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27: 749-750.
2004 Sosis, Richard and Bradley Ruffle Ideology, Religion, and the Evolution of Cooperation: Field Tests on Israeli Kibbutzim. Research in Economic Anthropology 23: 89-117.
2003 Sosis, Richard and Candace Alcorta Signaling, Solidarity, and the Sacred: The Evolution of Religious Behavior. Evolutionary Anthropology 12: 264-274
2003 Sosis, Richard. and Bradley Ruffle Religious Ritual and Cooperation: Testing for a Relationship on Israeli Religious and Secular Kibbutzim. Current Anthropology 44: 713-722
2003 Sosis, Richard Why aren’t we all Hutterites? Costly signaling theoy and religious behavior. Human Nature 14: 91-127.
2003 Sosis, Richard and Eric Bressler Cooperation and commune longevity: A test of the costly signaling theory of religion. Cross-Cultural Research 37: 211-239
2000 Sosis, Richard Religion and intra-group cooperation: preliminary results of a comparative analysis of utopian communities. Cross-Cultural Research 34: 70-87.