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Surprising Science

How Analytic Thinking Erodes Religious Belief

New psychological research shows that when people are prompted to think analytically, they downplay their belief in supernatural beings like God and angels. Are you a believer? 

What’s the Latest Development?

Individuals prompted to think analytically downplay their belief in the supernatural, according to a psychological study completed at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. In an experiment, 93 students were asked to rate their belief in divine beings like God and angels. Two weeks later, the students were prompted to think analytically by unscrambling words like ‘ponder’ and ‘rational’. “The students who had been exposed to analytical priming consistently downgraded their belief in the supernatural, regardless of their previous degree of belief.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Scientists explain the experiment’s result by dividing thought into two categories: intuitive and analytic. Both kinds of thinking are used by everyone to process information, the former being quick and emotional while the latter is slower and more considerate. Intuitive thinking is associated with belief in the supernatural, and while analytic thinking does not necessarily cause disbelief, “activating analytical thinking can override the intuitive system—and vice versa,” said the scientists behind the recent study. Still, other things like the fear of death encourage religious belief which would not be undermined by analytic thinking. 

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