Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alan King


Humans look for a quick and comforting explanation for why bad things happen. One popular explanation is to believe good and evil are active forces affecting people and events. Past research suggests belief in evil is associated with harsher judgments and less prosocial behavior. However, little research has explored what factors influence the development of a belief in evil or its effects in an experimental setting. Using a national sample of Amazon MTurk respondents (N = 511), participants completed a series of potential developmental antecedent measures (e.g. personality domains, religiosity, etc.) and viewed a video vignette of a crime with information that the perpetrator was a first time or repeat offender and gave their opinions of the perpetrator. Belief in pure evil (BPE) varied in the sample with women (M = 97.51) endorsing stronger beliefs than men (M = 92.75). Regression analyses highlighted intrinsic religiosity, cognitive flexibility, authoritarian aggression, personal distress, and observation of parental violence as significant predictors of a strong belief in evil. A multivariate analysis controlling for respondent age was conducted between sex, arrest history, and BPE on judgmental indicators. Higher belief in evil coupled with a past arrest history led to more condemnation of others and reduced chances of rehabilitation compared to a lower belief in evil. Future research should focus on altering severity of crime, investigating racial and gender differences, and including explicit evil symbols in the scenario to assess the impact of BPE.

Included in

Psychology Commons