Cognitive biases don’t explain religion, after all

The cognitive science of religion shows why Czechs are less religiousIf you’re familiar with the cognitive science of religion, then you’ve probably heard the term “hyperactive agency detection device,” or HADD. The HADD is one of today’s most popular explanations for why people believe in God or gods. It proposes that the human brain is equipped with a hair-trigger mechanism that perceives personhood – that is, intentions and purposes – everywhere in the world. This mechanism is why you see faces in campfire flames or jump when you hear a twig crack in the woods. According to the HADD hypothesis, these perceptions are the reason for human beliefs in gods and spirits – and, hence, the cognitive foundation for religiosity itself. But religiosity is a often lot more than seeing faces in clouds or campfires. It’s also rituals, texts, moral codes, community, and funny hats. So, really, how much of religion boils down to cognitive biases for detecting agency? According to new research from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the answer might be “not much.” [Read more…]

Protestants, Catholics, and the fundamental attribution error

Daniel Ansted


The fundamental attribution error, also known as correspondence bias or the attribution effect, is a cognitive bias that unduly favors personality or internally based explanations of behavior over situational or externally based explanations. For example, if someone does poorly on a test you might consider the following explanations: that the person is not intelligent, that she or he did not study adequately, or some other factor based on individual responsibility. However, if you are this person who received a poor grade you are more likely to cite situational or external factors such as the difficulty of the test or lack of sleep. Much work has been done to explain this phenomenon and to figure out ways to reduce this error; however, until now little research has been conducted on the role religious ideas might play in this bias. [Read more…]