27 April 2012

Psychology of Religion: Analytic Thinking Decreases Religious Belief Among Believers and Skeptics Alike

Analytic thinking is done by going through all aspects of a problem, question, or situation. By breaking up the topic into smaller parts and each part is studied meticulously and see how it relates to the main topic.

Since the process follows a coherent and logical progression, it is sometimes called the scientific way of thinking. Analytic thinking starts by taking a problem and hypothesizing it. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for the problem. Facts are collected and analyzed. After analysis of the facts (everthng has to be evaluated), it is compared to the hypothesis and matched. If it is a match, the person then looks if the hypothesis will still hold true if some conditions are changed. If the problem is an experiment, the experiment is done again to see if it will have the same results.

Analytic thinking is a skill that can be developed. The most important factors to consider is astute observation, and systematic thinking.

Analytic thinking can decrease religious belief: UBC study

A new University of British Columbia study finds that analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, even in devout believers.

The study, published today in the journal Science, finds that thinking analytically increases disbelief among believers and skeptics alike, shedding important new light on the psychology of religious belief.

"Our goal was to explore the fundamental question of why people believe in a God to different degrees," says lead author Will Gervais, a PhD student in UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "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."

Video: Analytic Induction or Explanation Building

Researchers used problem-solving tasks and subtle experimental priming – including showing participants Rodin's sculpture The Thinker or asking participants to complete questionnaires in hard-to-read fonts – to successfully produce "analytic" thinking. The researchers, who 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.

The findings, Gervais says, are based on a longstanding human psychology model of two distinct, but related cognitive systems to process information: an "intuitive" system that relies on mental shortcuts to yield fast and efficient responses, and a more "analytic" system that yields more deliberate, reasoned responses.

"Our study builds on previous research that links religious beliefs to 'intuitive' thinking," says study co-author and Associate Prof. Ara Norenzayan, UBC Dept. 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 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.

Recent figures suggest that the majority of the world's population believes in a God, however atheists and agnostics number in the hundreds of millions, says Norenzayan, a co-director of UBC's Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture. Religious convictions are shaped by psychological and cultural factors and fluctuate across time and situations, he says.


University of British Columbia
Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture
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