In Brief

There's a reason the devil went down to Georgia. People link "up" to concepts of God and heaven, and they link "down" to the devil and hell, according to a study in press in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 94, No. 1).

In one experiment, Brian P. Meier, PhD, of Gettysburg College, and colleagues had participants--all college students--push either of two buttons to categorize words on a computer screen. The categories were "God" and the "devil," and the words belonged to either category. The position of the words varied between the top and the bottom of the screen. The team found that the students were quicker to categorize God related words when they appeared at the top of the computer screen, and devil related words when they appeared at the bottom.

In another test, students briefly saw heavenly or hellish images in various locations on the computer screen. When asked to say where the images had appeared, the students recalled God images as higher up and devil images as lower down than they originally appeared.

And in another trial, participants judged strangers as believing more strongly in God when their images appeared at the top rather than the bottom of the computer screen.

Surprisingly, students made these associations regardless of their religious status, notes Meier.

The results demonstrate how entrenched these vertical representations are in the collective consciousness. "People don't just use metaphors--they think in them," says Meier.