This post is a guest contribution by Amy Dapper, the proprietor of Evolve It!, a blog about (sometimes) cool (mostly) science-y things. Amy is a PhD student at Indiana University studying evolutionary theory.
Religious beliefs, or more likely disbelief, tend to be a hot topic on science blogs, particularly those with a evolutionary bend. However, when these topics come up there is often more opinion than science, which is why I was excited to see an research article in last weeks edition of Science titled ‘Analytical Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief’ . The article, authored by Will M. Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, uses a series of five studies to build a causal link between analytical cognitive processes and religious disbelief. I thought it would be fun to delve into the science behind their audaciously titled article for my guest post here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense.
The authors approach understanding the cognitive underpinnings of religious belief and disbelief using the dual-process theory of human thought. This theory posits that we use two distinct and separate systems for reasoning. The first, creatively termed System 1, is intuitive and produces a rapid response based only on prior knowledge and experience. Previous research has found that individuals who rely more heavily on this intuitive cognitive system are more likely to believe in supernatural entities, and thus tend to have stronger religious beliefs . On the other hand, System 2 is rational and produces a slower response based upon logic and reasoning that, when employed, often overrides the conclusions of System 1. The authors hypothesize that, in contrast to System 1, this analytical cognitive system promotes religious disbelief.
Their first study establishes a correlational relationship between analytic thinking and religious belief by asking participants to answer three clever questions that have an immediate intuitive, but incorrect, answer and a correct answer that requires deeper analytical processing. These questions, and their answers, can be found in the table below. The study participants then answered a survey about their religious beliefs. The results show that participants that arrive at the correct, analytical answers to the first set of questions also tend to exhibit more religious disbelief in their responses to the survey.
Excerpt from Table 1
|Study 1. Analytic thinking task (5)||Intuitive
|A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? ____cents||10||5|
|If it takes 5 machines 5 min to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____minutes||100||5|
|In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____days||24||47|
The next four studies build a clever, and surprising, causal link between employing analytic thinking and expressing religious disbelief.
Read the rest here.