I think, therefor I am that I am
The psychology report, published Thursday in the prestigious journal Science, reveals that religious belief drops after subjects perform analytical tasks or are exposed to Rodin's sculpture, The Thinker.
The research duo, UBC social psychologists Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, who have earned international reputations for their groundbreaking studies into religion in the past six years, maintain all humans use two valuable types of thinking - intuitive and analytical. How much you rely on one kind of thinking over another generally determines how religious you are.
People who are highly intuitive tend to be more religious. Intuitive thinking helps people recognize the difference between the body and the mind, imagine life after death and discern purposes in the universe.
In contrast, analytic thinking reduces intuitions of God, of an afterlife and of experiences of divine presence, say Gervais and Norenzayan, whose latest research surveyed 650 people, mostly from B.C.Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds
Scientists have revealed one of the reasons why some folks are less religious than others: They think more analytically, rather than going with their gut. And thinking analytically can cause religious belief to wane — for skeptics and true believers alike.
The cognitive origins of belief — and disbelief — traditionally haven't been explored with academic rigor, said lead author Will Gervais, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. "There's been a long-standing intellectual tradition of treating science as one thing and religion as separate, and never the twain shall meet," he said. But in recent years, he added, there has been a push "to understand religion and why our species has the capacity for religion."
Studies suggest that religious beliefs are rooted in this intuitive processing, Gervais said. So, he wondered, would thinking analytically undermine religious belief as it overrides intuitive thought?
To find out, his research team had college students perform three thinking tasks, each with an intuitive (incorrect) answer and an analytic (correct) answer. For example, students were asked this question: "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?" The intuitive answer — 10 cents — would be wrong. A little math on the fly reveals that the correct answer would be 5 cents.
After answering three of these questions, the students were asked to rate a series of statements on belief, including, "In my life I feel the presence of the Divine," and "I just don't understand religion." Students who answered the three questions correctly — and presumably did a better job of engaging their analytical skills — were more likely to score lower on the belief scales.
To tease out whether analytic thinking was actually causing belief to decrease, the researchers performed a series of additional experiments. First, students were randomly assigned to look at images of Auguste Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker," or of the ancient Greek statue of a discus thrower, "Discobolus." Those who viewed "The Thinker" were prompted to think more analytically and expressed less belief in God — they scored an average of 41.42 on a 100-point scale, compared with an average of 61.55 for the group that viewed the discus thrower, according to the study.
So does this mean that religious faith can be undermined with just a little extra mental effort? Not really, said Nicholas Epley, a social psychologist at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the study. But it does show that belief isn't set in stone, but can respond to a person's context.I am that I am.
I yam that I yam