December 28, 2015

New Year’s Day is closing in fast – so it must be annual round-up time! Here’s the research news on psychology of belief and non-belief that I found  most interesting over the past year – the top 10 – and in reverse order, naturally. 10. Conspiracy theories flourish when people feel like things are slipping out of control Mining data from a 15-year old survey revealed that people who felt least able to keep on top of the infamous ‘Millenium… Read more

December 18, 2015

One of the accepted truisms of religious research is that religious people tend to be healthier than the non-religious. Over the years I’ve seen many studies looking into this but haven’t blogged about any since 2012 because, well, they’re all a bit boring. One of the problems is that almost all the research is done in the USA, which is an interesting country but not exactly representative of the rest of the world. And that’s an issue because we know… Read more

December 10, 2015

It’s well established that religious people tend to volunteer more and give more to charity than the non-religious. There are many factors that could contribute to this. Many charities that explicitly to support co-religionists or to promote religion, and what’s more religious people also tend to be older and married, both of which predict But what’s less well understood is how important religion is compared with other factors. In particular Jennifer Glanville (University of Iowa) and colleagues were interested to… Read more

December 3, 2015

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a ridiculous idea, so daft it’s probably not even worth spending time thinking about. But stick with me on this because the analysis is a fascinating one. I’m talking about a recent study by Benjamin Blau, a finance expert at Utah State University. He picked up on a bunch of evidence that businesses in more religious countries and localities are less likely to take risks. The problem with these previous studies is that… Read more

November 29, 2015

Whatever the ins and outs behind the tragic shootings at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, it seems safe to assume that the heated and inflammatory rhetoric that has characterised the debate around abortion in the USA has played a major role. A couple of weeks ago, Planned Parenthood innocently asked Twitter users for one word to describe them. The torrent of abuse that resulted was voluminous and perhaps predictable, but what interests me is that one of the first and… Read more

November 10, 2015

You may have seen the buzz around a recent study which found that kids in atheist families are more altruistic than kids in religious families. Like any study that reinforces preconceptions of a vocal group, it was social media gold dust. I want to take a critical look at it and some of the objections that have been raised in recent days. I think the attacks are off mark: this is a robust study, at least by the limited standards… Read more

November 5, 2015

By using a carefully calibrated magnetic field, you can change the patterns of brain activity. It should come as no surprise, then, that you can actually change the intensity of religious beliefs in this way, at least temporarily. For example, a recent study found that activating the brain’s parietal lobe (the bit near the top of your head just behind the middle) can make people less religious, probably by sharpening their sense of location (and separation from the wider universe)…. Read more

October 22, 2015

Bad things happen to good people. On the face of this, this causes problems for belief systems that insist on some kind of cosmic karma – the idea that there is a supernatural overseer who metes out punishments to the bad and rewards the good. Theologians turn to several different rationales and justifications to explain these difficulties – often these involve a degree of mental gymnastics and nuances that pass the typical believer by. But what’s rather more interesting to… Read more

October 13, 2015

Research over the past few years has shown that many people intuitively think that things in the natural world exist for some ulterior purpose – almost as if they had been designed that way. We have a tendency to agree with statements such as ‘water condenses to moisten the air’, or ‘the sun shines in order to keep us warm’. A moments thought will tell you that these statements are wrong. But put people – even scientists – under time… Read more

September 30, 2015

The most magnificent charitable gesture can fall flat if it turns out that you just did it to get a promotion, or get some other kind of pay off. People don’t like it if they think they detect a hidden motive behind apparently charitable behaviour. Last year, research by University of Kentucky psychologist Will Gervais showed that something similar seems to happen when people do charitable deeds motivated by their religious beliefs. Observers will rate them less favourably than if… Read more

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