Does Analytic Thinking Decrease Religious Belief?

by Amy Hall

Does Analytic Thinking Decrease Religious BeliefA University of British Columbia study just released “finds that analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, even in devout believers”:

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.”

This is interesting to me because I had the exact opposite experience—it was only when I started thinking analytically about religion that I became convinced Christianity is true…

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RECOMMENDED READING:

Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy

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