Religious beliefs shape perception of stimuli

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Calvinismus

A Calvinist and a Catholic walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What’ll ya have?” The Calvinist, whose theology has inclined him to think individualistically, picks an obscure beer, while the Catholic just says, “I’ll have that too.” While that joke may fall flat, it does reflect leading research about how religious practice affects mental processing. A group of psychologists led by Bernhard Hommel of Leiden University has recently found that neo-Calvinists tend to process information more individualistically, while Catholics process more collectively.

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Religion-science reporting: We need to do better

Connor Wood

Facepalm

I have a bone to pick. I study religion – a subject that arouses stronger and more willfully misinformed opinions than nearly any other. It’s almost impossible to find objective, forthright reporting or research on the subject of faith. The religious spin the facts to make belief seem righteous. The nonbelievers choose only the stories that most make religion seem silly or atavistic. And the bemused intellectuals, knowing practically nothing of substance about religion but perennially congratulating themselves for their enlightened perspectives, blunder dumbly around in the sea of half-facts and lurid claims, pushed and pulled by whatever news story of the week has gained the most attention. The buzz surrounding a recent study from the Bay Area demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about – and how much is actually at stake.

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Does religion make us moral?

Connor Wood

Stealing

The scriptures of the world’s great religious traditions are chock-full of moral teachings. Believers are encouraged to treat each other as neighbors, to be kind to strangers, and to help the poor. But religious people aren’t always more moral or righteous than nonbelievers – indeed, religions have inspired wars, inquisitions, and seemingly endless prejudice. So is religion morally good or bad? Yale psychologist Paul Bloom thinks the answer is both. And the moral effects of religion stem from what religious people do together…not necessarily what they believe.

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Why do we think the soul persists after death?

Connor Wood

Persistence_of_the_soul

Quick: imagine what happens after you die. Will you still be able to think and feel? Will you experience pain, pleasure, or sensations, and will you still develop, change, and grow? Around the world, people seem to be hardwired to think about humans dualistically, or as composed of physical bodies and nonphysical minds or spirits. This means that ideas about the afterlife and the soul may come as naturally to us as breathing. But a pair of psychologists from California think that the situation is more complicated – we may be innately predisposed to differentiate not just between body and mind, but between mortal mind and immortal spirit.

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Parasites may have shaped religion’s evolution

Connor Wood

Germs

Religion, many commentators have complained, is frustratingly multifaceted. It can give profound meaning to life but, at the same time, pit rival human groups against each other. It can inspire hope for a better life and hatred for outsiders simultaneously. So why the seeming dark and light side of religion? Specifically, why do religions create sharp, often hostile divisions between groups? One research team from the University of New Mexico has found evidence that may surprise you. Hint: it has to do with creepy-crawlies.

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Religion, health, and personality

Jonathan Morgan

Personality

Each month new studies emerge about how religious belief affects well-being: belief in a loving, forgiving God is linked to slower progression of HIV; pro-religious people have better heart health. Each new study explores different facets of spirituality and religiosity, and different types of health. But what if this correlation is just a side effect of another, deeper connection? Corinna Loeckenhoff, a psychologist from Cornell, argues that personality may be that deeper factor, and her research backs her up.

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Analytical thinking vs. religion

Connor Wood

Is analytical thinking bad for religious belief? Signs point to yes: last month, a study in Science magazine showed that participants who were primed to think analytically – as opposed to intuitively – showed small but significant declines in religious belief. Of course, many commentators and bloggers across the internet have gleefully pounced on these results as proof that religion is for the soft-headed and jejune. But I have a different take – one that acknowledges religion’s irksome and undesirable traits, even as it rolls its eyes at the careless popular storytelling that casts science as a vanquisher of faith.

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Seeing a purpose in nature reduces fear of death

Connor Wood

Teleology Road

Here’s a question: why is there an ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere? If you answered “to keep UV rays from harming life,” you’re thinking teleologically. Teleology is the idea that there are goals or purposes in everything from the decomposition of soil to the big picture of cosmic destiny. Of course, science generally doesn’t see the world teleologically, because scientists have found that focusing on proximate, mechanical causes is more useful for discovering how things work. But a new study shows that teleological thinking, while not scientific, may serve another function – staving off the fear of death.

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Few scientists see science in conflict with religion

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Smug_scientist

All too often, religious believers and non-believers alike assume a conflict between religion and science. Popular writers and much of the media seem to enjoy pitting the two against each other, and they paint a picture of the faithful and scientists in a perennial war. The historical problems with this fabricated picture aside, it remains an empirical question whether scientists actually see science as inherently conflicting with religion. Sociologists Elaine Ecklund, Katherine Sorrell (both of Rice University), and Jerry Park (Baylor University) investigated this matter and found that only a minority of scientists see religion and science as inherently in conflict.

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Atheism: a personality profile

Jonathan Morgan

religion_atheism

For half a decade, the cognitive science of religion has sought the evolutionary origins of religious belief. This burgeoning field has some deep and convincing explanations, but it may also stigmatize atheists as aberrations of evolution. Now, psychologists are countering this stigma by tracking the personality traits that naturally facilitate atheism. Their work gives us a personality profile that neutralizes atheism as one of many expected worldviews in any healthy, diverse community.

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