Is there a correlation between an individual’s cognitive “style” and his or her belief in God? A new study by three Harvard researchers published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General suggests there is.
Based on an online survey of 882 adults, in which respondents answered questions about their belief in God before taking a cognitive test, researchers determined that those with a more intuitive style were likelier to believe in God than those with a more reflective style.
“We wanted to explain variations in belief in God in terms of more basic cognitive processes,” said Harvard researcher Amitai Shenhav in a statement.
“Some say we believe in God because our intuitions about how and why things happen lead us to see a divine purpose behind ordinary events that don’t have obvious human causes,” he said. “This led us to ask whether the strength of an individual’s beliefs is influenced by how much they trust their natural intuitions versus stopping to reflect on those first instincts.”
As defined by the study, intuitive thinkers make quick, instinctive judgments based on automatic cognitive processes. Reflective thinkers, according to the study, question their first instincts and consider other possibilities, allowing for counterintuitive decisions.
The test that determined whether a respondent was intuitive or reflective involved three math problems. One read: “A ball and bat cost $1.10 in total. The ball costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”
The intuitive response, according to the Harvard researchers, is 10 cents, because most people’s first thought is to deduct $1 from the total. But those using reflective reasoning will question their first thought and are more likely to correctly respond 5 cents.
The study found that those who gave intuitive answers to all three math problems were one and a half times more likely to believe in God than those who answered all of the questions correctly.
The implication of the test results is that reflective reasoning is superior to intuitive thinking, but the Harvard researcher David Rand insisted that is not the case.
“It’s not that one way is better than the other,” he said in a statement. “Intuitions are important and reflection are important, and you want some balance between the two.”