What is it about?

The "Mickey Mouse problem" refers to the difficulty in predicting which supernatural beings will be worshiped (e.g., Jesus, Allah, Vishnu) and which will not (e.g., Mickey Mouse, Dracula, Santa Claus). This study found that worshiped gods are generally rated more benevolent than fictional beings. However, they are also highly threatening, suggesting that a combination, or ambivalence, is a key trait. The abilities that gods are attributed also tend to be less specific and more ambiguous (e.g., omnipotence, control of nature) and are mind-based (e.g., read minds, and all-knowing).

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Why is it important?

The research helps us to understand why people believe in gods rather than other types of supernatural beings.


The differences between gods and fictional beings point to a motivational account of religious belief, meaning that people are attracted to gods because of the benefits that gods can bestow, and they will be motivated to convince themselves that these gods are real.

Thomas Swan
University of Otago

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This page is a summary of: The Mickey Mouse problem: Distinguishing religious and fictional counterintuitive agents, PLoS ONE, August 2019, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220886.
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