How is analytical thinking related to religious belief? A test of three theoretical models

Religion, Brain and Behavior 11 (3):239-260 (2021)
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The replicability and importance of the correlation between cognitive style and religious belief have been debated. Moreover, the literature has not examined distinct psychological accounts of this relationship. We tested the replicability of the correlation (N = 5284; students and broader samples of Canadians, Americans, and Indians); while testing three accounts of how cognitive style comes to be related to belief in God, karma, witchcraft, and to the belief that religion is necessary for morality. The first, the dual process model, posits that analytical thinking is recruited in overriding intuitions related to supernatural beliefs. The second, the expressive rationality model, posits that analytical thinking is recruited in supporting already-held beliefs in an identity-protective manner. And the third, the counter-normativity rationality model, posits that analytical thinking is recruited to question beliefs supported by prevailing cultural norms. In Study 2, we tested the replicability of our results in a re-analysis of published data. The association between analytic thinking style and beliefs was replicated. We conclude that whereas the counter-normativity rationality model was contradicted by the data, both the dual process and expressive rationality models received varying degrees of empirical support, but neither model fully accounted for all the patterns in the data.

Author's Profile

Hagop Sarkissian
CUNY Graduate Center


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