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Semantic Organization of Characteristics in Natural and Supernatural Concepts

Dr. Joseph Sommer
Rutgers University ~ Psychology
Julien Musolino
Rutgers University, United States of America
Prof. Pernille Hemmer
Rutgers University ~ Psychology

A prominent theory in the cognitive science of religion proposes that supernatural concepts are ubiquitous across cultures because they possess a “minimally counterintuitive” structure, which improves their memorability relative to natural concepts. So-called minimally counterintuitive (MCI) concepts contain one or a few characteristics that violate intuitive ontological theories, which makes them salient. By contrast, “maximally counterintuitive” (MXCI) concepts are purported to be less memorable than their MCI counterparts because they contain too many such violations. However, the fact that supernatural characteristics contain violations of intuitive theories is not the only way they differ from natural characteristics. We organize natural and supernatural characteristics generated by experimental participants into a multi-dimensional hierarchical structure and discuss the semantic organization of supernatural and natural concepts. We suggest that this methodology highlights subtler distinctions between supernatural and natural characteristics that dispense with the need for a novel memory mechanism involving violations of intuitive ontological theories.


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Cite this as:

Sommer, J., Musolino, J., & Hemmer, P. (2020, November). Semantic Organization of Characteristics in Natural and Supernatural Concepts. Paper presented at MathPsych at Virtual Psychonomics 2020. Via