Study challenges a growing trend that has attempted to show that belief in the supernatural is something that comes “naturally” or intuitively to us – ScienceDaily
Religious beliefs are not linked to intuition or rational thought, according to new research from the universities of Coventry and Oxford.
Previous studies have suggested that people with strong religious beliefs are more intuitive and less analytical, and when they think more analytically, their religious beliefs decline.
But new research, led by academics from the Center for Advances in Behavioral Science at Coventry University and neuroscientists and philosophers from the University of Oxford, suggests that is not the case and that people are not not “born believers”.
The study – which included tests on pilgrims on the famous Camino de Santiago and a brain stimulation experiment – found no link between intuitive/analytical thinking or cognitive inhibition (an ability to suppress thoughts and adverse actions) and supernatural beliefs. .
Instead, scholars conclude that other factors, such as upbringing and sociocultural processes, are more likely to play a bigger role in religious beliefs.
The study — published in Scientific reports – was the first to challenge a growing trend among cognitive psychologists over the past 20 years that has attempted to show that belief in the supernatural is something that comes “naturally” or intuitively to us.
The team began by investigating one of the world’s greatest pilgrimage routes, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain.
They asked the pilgrims about the strength of their beliefs and the duration of the pilgrimage and assessed their level of intuitive thinking with a probability task, where participants had to decide between a logical choice and an “instinctive” choice.
The results suggested no link between the strength of supernatural belief and intuition.
In a second study, where they used math puzzles to increase intuition, they also found no link between levels of intuitive thought and supernatural belief.
In the final part of their research, they used brain stimulation to increase levels of cognitive inhibition, thought to regulate analytical thinking.
It involved passing a painless electrical current between two electrodes placed on the participant’s scalp, to activate the right inferior frontal gyrus, a part of the brain that controls inhibitory control.
A previous brain imaging study showed that atheists used this area of the brain more when they wanted to suppress supernatural ideas.
The results showed that while this brain stimulation increased levels of cognitive inhibition, it did not change levels of supernatural belief, suggesting that there is no direct link between cognitive inhibition and supernatural belief. .
Scholars say it is “premature” to explain belief in gods as intuitive or natural.
Instead, they say their research supports a theory that religion is an nurturing-based process and develops as a result of socio-cultural processes, including upbringing and nurturing.
Lead author Miguel Farias said:
“What drives our belief in gods – intuition or reason; heart or head? There has been a long debate on this question, but our studies have challenged the theory that being a religious believer is determined by the extent to which individuals rely on intuitive or analytical thinking.
“We don’t think of people as ‘born believers’ in the same way that we inevitably learn a language at an early age. Available sociological and historical data show that what we believe in is primarily based on social factors and educational, not cognitive styles, such as intuitive/analytical thinking.
“Religious belief is most likely rooted in culture rather than primitive intuition.”