Does parenting motivation increase social conservatism and religiosity?
Political and religious attitudes are central to social identities and influence individual behaviors, intergroup relations, and government policies. Previous research has found that political and religious beliefs may be shaped by people’s motivational goals. Meanwhile, another line of research has highlighted the psychological importance of parental care as a key motivational system. The present research investigated whether activation of the parental care motivational system can influence political and religious attitudes. Existing work has found reliable correlational evidence consistent with this hypothesis, but has found only equivocal evidence of a causal relationship. Thus, the present study tested the hypothesis that experimentally inducing parental care motives would lead to an increase in social conservatism and religiosity. This study also included measures of the political and religious attitudes of participants’ parents to test whether this potential confound could account for previous correlational findings. Three hundred and seventy-six student participants performed an interactive manipulation in which they imagined and described either a positive parenting activity or an activity unrelated to parenting. There were no main effects of condition on the two outcome variables, social conservatism and religiosity. However, moderation effects emerged, such that participants who reported stronger emotional responses to the manipulation showed increases in both social conservatism and religiosity, relative to the control condition. Correlations between the main variables were unaffected by controlling for participants’ parents’ attitudes, thus failing to support a key alternative hypothesis. These results lend further—albeit tentative –support to the causal hypothesis that parental care motivation leads to greater social conservatism and religiosity.