A new study finds that analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, even in devout believers.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia set out to explore the fundamental question of why people believe in God in varying degrees.
They used problem-solving tasks and subtle experimental priming, such as asking participants to complete questionnaires in hard-to-read fonts, to produce “analytic” thinking.
The researchers, who also assessed participants’ belief levels using a variety of self-reported measures, found that religious belief decreased when participants engaged in analytic tasks, compared to participants who engaged in tasks that did not involve analytic thinking.
According to lead author Will Gervais, a doctoral student in the university’s psychology department, the findings are based on a psychological model of two distinct but related cognitive systems used to process information.
One is an intuitive system that relies on mental shortcuts to yield fast and efficient responses; the other, a more analytic system that leads to more deliberate, reasoned responses.
“Our study builds on previous research that links religious beliefs to intuitive thinking,” adds study co-author and associate professor Ara Norenzayan.
“Our findings suggest that activating the analytic cognitive system in the brain can undermine the intuitive support for religious belief, at least temporarily.”
The study involved more than 650 participants in the U.S. and Canada. Gervais says future studies will explore whether the increase in religious disbelief is temporary or long-lasting, and how the findings apply to non-Western cultures.
The study was published in the journal Science.
Source: University of British Columbia