Abstract and Keywords
Throughout the world adolescence is deemed the appropriate life stage to “learn religion.” Nearly three-quarters of societies conduct adolescent rites of passage transmitting sacred rituals and beliefs. Neurophysiological changes that occur during adolescence render this an “experience-expectant” period for the transmission of religious schema and values. Brain regions critical to emotional, social, and symbolic processing mature, creating a plastic neural substrate for imbuing social and symbolic schema with emotional meaning and reward value. Religion in general, and adolescent rites of passage in particular, are optimally adapted for this task. Music-based ritual and emotionally evocative elements of religion optimize reinforcement learning. The costly and autonomically arousing ordeals of many rites ensure fear conditioning. Such learning shapes maturing neural networks, impacting choices and behaviors. Evolutionary anthropologists view religion as a costly signal of group commitment. Adolescent rites of passage are a powerful proximate mechanism for creating and maintaining cooperative, cohesive groups.
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