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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Belief in karma is associated with perceived (but not actual) trustworthiness

H.H. Ong, A.M. Evans, et al.
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. ‍17,
No. ‍2, March 2022, pp. 362-377


Believers of karma believe in ethical causation where good and bad outcomes can be traced to past moral and immoral acts. Karmic belief may have important interpersonal consequences. We investigated whether American Christians expect more trustworthiness from (and are more likely to trust) interaction partners who believe in karma. We conducted an incentivized study of the trust game where interaction partners had different beliefs in karma and God. Participants expected more trustworthiness from (and were more likely to trust) karma believers. Expectations did not match actual behavior: karmic belief was not associated with actual trustworthiness. These findings suggest that people may use others' karmic belief as a cue to predict their trustworthiness but would err when doing so.

From the Discussion Section

We asked whether people perceive individuals who believe in karma, compared with those who do not, to be more trustworthy. In an incentivized study of American Christians, we found evidence that this was indeed the case. People expected interaction partners who believed in karma to behave in a more trustworthy manner and trusted these individuals more. Additionally, this tendency did not differ across the perceiver’s belief in karma.

While perceivers expected individuals who believed in karma to be more trustworthy, the individuals’ actual trustworthy behavior did not differ across their belief in karma. This discrepancy indicates that, although participants in our study used karmic belief as a cue when making trustworthiness judgment, it did not track actual trustworthiness. The absence of an association between karmic belief and actual trustworthy behavior among participants in the trustee role may seem to contradict prior research which found that reminders of karma increased generous behavior in dictator games (White et al., 2019; Willard et al., 2020). However, note that our study did not involve any conspicuous reminders of karma – there was only a single question asking if participants believe in karma. Thus, it may be that those who believe in karma would behave in a more trustworthy manner only when the concept is made salient.

Although we had found that karma believers were perceived as more trustworthy, the psychological explanation(s) for this finding remains an open question. One possible explanation is that karma is seen as a source of supernatural justice and that individuals who believe in karma are expected to behave in a more trustworthy manner in order to avoid karmic ]punishment and/or to reap karmic rewards.