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Analytic thinking could promote atheism

Washington , Fri, 27 Apr 2012 ANI

Washington, April 27 (ANI): Analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, even in devout believers, says researchers.

A new University of British Columbia study found that thinking analytically increases religious 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," said 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," he stated.

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 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, Gervais said.

"Our study builds on previous research that links religious beliefs to 'intuitive' thinking," said 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," Norenzayan added.

The study involved more than 650 participants in the U.S. and Canada.

Gervais said future studies will explore whether the increase in religious disbelief is temporary or long-lasting, and how the findings apply to non-Western cultures.

The study has been published in the journal Science. (ANI)


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