Pure good or pure evil doesn’t need to actually exist in order to psychologists to study it; people merely have to believe in it. That’s what a new study published in the Personality and Social Bulletin suggests, saying that people who hold these beliefs signal broader attitudes about altruism and the use of force.
The study’s authors have previously established two separate scales that can measure whether or not someone believes in pure good or pure evil; indeed, sometimes there isn’t any overlap, and the two scales are uncorrelated.
After measuring a group of students’ belief in pure good or pure evil, the researchers had the students complete a survey. The researchers found that those who strongly believe in pure evil have higher support for torture, the death penalty, pre-emptive strikes, and racism, and also have less support for social programs and criminal rehabilitation. By contrast, those who believe strongly in pure good had more support for diplomatic solutions and social programs, and less support for torture.
Of course, the main limitation of this research is that belief in pure good or evil might not cause these attitudes; indeed, it could work the other way around. That said, there are still people in the world who believe in literal angels and demons, and they take their actions accordingly.