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A brief history of 2010

A brief history of 2010 December 30, 2010

Another year over for Epiphenom! 107 posts, 871 comments, and 135,000 visitors later (plus all the people who read this blog via newsreaders), what has 2010 had to show for itself?

We learned some more about what religion can do for you. Religious people are less likely to smoke, but more likely to be overweight. Religion can also make you more attractive. Religious people have worse verbal skills and are worse at science (incidentally, Republicans are also unscientific). However it’s the study of literature, not science, that really seems to turn people off religion. 

Religious prejudice seems to tap into the same neural circuits that drive racism. Religious fundamentalism can lead to right-wing authoritarianism and racism, as well as increased support for the death penalty. Religious priming can increase support for punishing wrongdoers.

There were several studies on the link between religion and fertility. Although it’s weaker in wealthier nations, it remains strong among fundamentalists, leading Eric Kaufman to wonder whether the religious shall inherit the Earth. Other research this year suggests that in Austria the link is driven by adherence to conservative lifestyles, although in the US it seems that the very religious actually have fewer kids.

So much for fertility. What about sex? Well, surprisingly, religion has no effect on sexual activity among American teenagers, among older Americans religion means less sex and fewer sexual fantasies.

The religious and non-religious are equally generous when it comes to giving blood. And, at least among elderly, they are equally likely to volunteer.

As for atheists, well we learned that they are disagreeable and unconscientious – particularly in the USA. On the other hand, in the UK the non-religious are the most open-minded and have the most independent, confident spirits! There was another paper by Satoshi Kanazawa, this time suggesting that people with high IQ are able to overcome a number of innate biases, including the (alleged) predisposition to religion. Other research supports this, showing that the least religious have the fastest neural processing.

Religious people see the world differently to the non-religious. For example, Protestants are more likely to confuse thoughts with actions.And being raised a Calvinist Protestant may make you less likely to see the big picture.  Belief in the paranormal and fatalism both seem to be linked to fundamental errors in understanding the world around us.

However, even young children understand the difference between science and religion. They have to be taught the concept of an ominpotent god – not a problem because they are biased to believe what they are told. Unfortunately kids with the strongest religious beliefs are the most likely to be emotionally disturbed.

There were more studies showing a complex interaction between anxiety and religion. Sick people who pray are less anxious, and religious priming can make people less anxious if they make mistakes. On the other hand, priming people with the idea of God can make them more anxious and spend longer trying to complete impossible tasks.  Belief in a strong government can weaken faith.  But make people feel unempowered, and they can turn to zealotry (and reject the scientific theory of evolution). For those in doubt, preaching can actually strengthen their beliefs.

There were also several neurological studies this year. Transcendent feelings seem to be generated in the right-hand side of the brain, according to one MRI study.In support of this, brain surgery, especially in the region of right parietal lobe, can make people feel more religious. In fact, losing the entire right-hand side of your brain can trigger a kind of hyper-religiosity.  And lastly, there was a nice study showing that charismatic preachers seem to send believers into a kind of hypnotic trance.

Well, that’s a brief summary of some of the most interesting papers of the year. Here’s to another good one in 2011!


Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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