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Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief

A series of new experiments shows that analytic thinking can override intuitive assumptions, including those that underlie religious belief

People who are intuitive thinkers are more likely to be religious, but getting them to think analytically even in subtle ways decreases the strength of their belief, according to a new study in Science.

The research, conducted by University of British Columbia psychologists Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, does not take sides in the debate between religion and atheism, but aims instead to illuminate one of the origins of belief and disbelief. "To understand religion in humans," Gervais says, "you need to accommodate for the fact that there are many millions of believers and nonbelievers."

One of their studies correlated measures of religious belief with people's scores on a popular test of analytic thinking. The test poses three deceptively simple math problems. One asks: "If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?" The first answer that comes to mind—100 minutes—turns out to be wrong. People who take the time to reason out the correct answer (five minutes) are, by definition, more analytical—and these analytical types tend to score lower on the researchers' tests of religious belief.
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TAGGED: CRITICAL THINKING, RELIGION


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