Gervais and Norenzayan: Analytical Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief

Abstract: Scientific interest in the cognitive underpinnings of religious belief has grown in recent years. However, to date, little experimental research has focused on the cognitive processes that may promote religious disbelief. The present studies apply a dual-process model of cognitive processing to this problem, testing the hypothesis that analytic processing promotes religious disbelief. Individual differences in the tendency to analytically override initially flawed intuitions in reasoning were associated with increased religious disbelief. Four additional experiments provided evidence of causation, as subtle manipulations known to trigger analytic processing also encouraged religious disbelief. Combined, these studies indicate that analytic processing is one factor (presumably among several) that promotes religious disbelief. Although these findings do not speak directly to conversations about the inherent rationality, value, or truth of religious beliefs, they illuminate one cognitive factor that may influence such discussions.


The above link is one of the studies which was the basis for a Scientific American article entitled, “How Critical Thinkers Lose Faith in God.”

Aside: Trent Dougherty at Prosblogion did not care for the Scientific American article at all.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Bradley Bowen

    The studies described appear rather superficial.

    A few seconds of psychological influence towards analytic thinking is followed by some measure of religious belief/disbelief.

    This seems a very far stretch away from actually being disposed to think analytically and being skilled at analytic thinking and whether those attributes would have a tendency to make one skeptical about religious beliefs.

    Why not try to determine how often and how well people think analytically and then see if that correlates with atheism, agnosticism, or skepticism about religious beliefs?

  • Bradley Bowen

    In other words, who cares if a little bit of analytic thinking has a tendency to make someone a bit more skeptical than they might ordinarily be for a few minutes or a couple of hours?

    What matters is whether a good deal of well-executed analytic thinking frequently makes a person significantly more skeptical about religious beliefs for a long period of time (like months or years), and whether such analytic thinking rarely leads to greater acceptance of religious beliefs.