three questions

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Psychology Today discusses a study from Columbia psychologists William Gervais and Ara Norenzayan entitled "Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief" (PDF). "According to one theory of human thinking," writes the LA Times, "the brain processes information using two systems:"

The first relies on mental shortcuts by using intuitive responses -- a gut instinct, if you will -- to quickly arrive at a conclusion. The other employs deliberative analysis, which uses reason to arrive at a conclusion. [...] Both systems are useful and can run in parallel, the theory goes. But when called upon, analytic thinking can override intuition.

The piece summarizes: "his research team had college students perform three thinking tasks, each with an intuitive (incorrect) answer and an analytic (correct) answer." The paper's abstract notes that "analytic processing is one factor (presumably among several) that promotes religious disbelief," not to mention that, as noted above, analytic reasoning leads to the right answer--and intuition to an incorrect one.

The three questions used were:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? ____cents

If it takes 5 machines 5 min to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____minutes

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____days

The intuitive answers are 10, 100, and 24; the analytic ones are 5, 5, and 47. The paper concludes:

...the hypothesis that analytic processing--which empirically underlies all experimental manipulations--promotes religious disbelief explains all of these findings in a single framework that is well supported by existing theory regarding the cognitive foundations of religious belief and disbelief. [...]

...although these results indicate that analytic processing promotes religious disbelief, we again emphasize that analytic processing is almost certainly not the sole cause of religious disbelief.

Scientific American notes that "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:"

Analytic thinking undermines belief because, as cognitive psychologists have shown, it can override intuition. And we know from past research that religious beliefs--such as the idea that objects and events don't simply exist but have a purpose--are rooted in intuition. "Analytic processing inhibits these intuitions, which in turn discourages religious belief," Norenzayan explains.

Harvard University psychologist Joshua Greene writes:

"Obviously, this study doesn't prove the nonexistence of God. But it poses a challenge to believers: If God exists, and if believing in God is perfectly rational, then why does increasing rational thinking tend to decrease belief in God?"

The announcement from the University of British Columbia says that:

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

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on April 26, 2012 7:48 PM.

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