Religious Belief, Analytical Thinking Don't Mix

Study reveals this type of thinking reduces religious beliefs substantially

  The intuitive system underlying religion can be suppressed by the analytical system of the human brain
Canadian researchers have demonstrated in a new study that analytical thinking and religious beliefs do not really go hand in hand. Their work suggests that even devout believers experience a shift in their religious views when they begin to think analytically.

Canadian researchers have demonstrated in a new study that analytical thinking and religious beliefs do not really go hand in hand. Their work suggests that even devout believers experience a shift in their religious views when they begin to think analytically.

The study was carried out at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Researchers here demonstrated that this type of thinking has profound effects on the human brain, forcing it to reevaluate unfounded beliefs, and to see things from a new perspective.

Details of the research are published in today's issue of the top journal Science. The paper indicates that reductions in religious belief were consistent across all test subjects, regardless of whether they were devout believers or atheists and skeptics before the investigation.

These conclusions suggest that the human mind holds an innate psychology of religious belief, which can be addressed in a variety of manners. The work therefore opens up new possibilities of conducting research in how religion affects the brain.

In addition, the work again confirms that the human mind tends to operate on two separate pathways, one that is referred to as an intuitive system, and another called the analytic system. These cognitive systems process information in very different patterns.

The intuitive system produces fast and efficient responses (for the most part), by using mental shortcuts that remove important steps from the thinking process in order to provide speedy answers, while at the same time saving a lot of energy. The skipping part is what makes it very unreliable at times.

On the other hand, the analytical system tends to process data slower, but more thoroughly, and makes informed and rational decisions. The responses obtained from this system are reasoned and deliberate.

“Our goal was to explore the fundamental question of why people believe in a God to different degrees,” explains UBC’s Department of Psychology PhD student and lead study author, Will Gervais.

“A combination of complex factors influence matters of personal spirituality, and these new findings suggest that the cognitive system related to analytic thoughts is one factor that can influence disbelief,” he goes on to say.

“Our study builds on previous research that links religious beliefs to ‘intuitive’ thinking,” adds study coauthor Ara Norenzayan, who also holds an appointment as an associate professor with the UBC Department of Psychology.

“Our findings suggest that activating the ‘analytic’ cognitive system in the brain can undermine the ‘intuitive’ support for religious belief, at least temporarily,” the scientist concludes.

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