Date of Award

Fall 11-12-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Heather Kleider

Second Advisor

Dr. David Washburn

Third Advisor

Dr. Sarah Brosnan

Fourth Advisor

Dr. John Snarey


Symbols represent information we have previously learned or experienced, but they can also serve to encourage thoughts and behaviors that are consistent with this knowledge/experience in order to maintain social cohesion (Guthrie, 1996). Pictures (e.g., American Red Cross image) representing moral rules (e.g., ‘save lives’) have been shown to influence moral decisions (Broeders, van den Box, Muller, & Ham, 2011), but there is no empirical evidence to demonstrate that religious pictures encourage the same outcome. Four studies examined whether religious pictures would influence decision making (lexical, moral), and furthermore whether personal belief in religion was a moderating factor. In Study 1, participants viewed religious and neutral (control) pictures, and then made a series of lexical decisions (Meyer & Schvaneveldt, 1971). In Study 2, participants viewed religious and neutral words (which represented the pictures viewed in Study 1), and then made lexical decisions. In Studies 3 and 4, participants made decisions about moral actions. Moral decisions were preceded by viewing pictures in Study 3, and by words in Study 4. Self-reported religiosity was assessed last in each experiment. Across the four studies, we found support for the influence of religious pictures on decision making. In Studies 1 and 2, lexical decisions were faster to religious words when primed with religious pictures. In Study 3, participants rated morally ambiguous actions as less appropriate when primed with religious pictures. This occurred to a greater degree for religious participants. In Study 4, there was a general priming effect of religious words, but this was not influenced by individual religious beliefs.