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Dr Aiyana Willard
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Research area(s)

Cognitive foundations, cultural evolution, and societal consequences of:

  • Religion
  • Witchcraft and the evil eye
  • Karma and other supernatural forces
  • Spirituality outside of religion

Cultural evolutionary processes of:

  • Norms and normative behaviour (including morality)
  • Ritual behaviours and credible displays
  • Causal reasoning

Research Interests

The primary focus of my research is the cultural evolution of religion and other supernatural beliefs. This includes looking at why humans as a species are prone to religion, spiritual, and superstitious beliefs, and how culture has shaped these beliefs over time. I am particularly interested in the social and economic impacts of these beliefs. Much of my past work has focused on how the belief in gods who care about human morality and punish moral violations have aided in building larger, more parochially cooperative societies, (i.e. cooperating with other group members), and supports cooperation among anonymous strangers within the same faith. My current work is focused on the cooperative benefits of karma beliefs, and the social and economic consequences of witchcraft and evil-eye beliefs. I conduct much of my work in the field. I have worked in Fiji, Mauritius, and the Czech Republic and am currently working on a project collecting data on karma beliefs in Singapore.

Research grants and projects

Research Projects