Does "Think" Mean the Same Thing as "Believe"? Linguistic Insights Into Religious Cognition

Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 13 (3):287-297 (2021)
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When someone says she believes that God exists, is she expressing the same kind of mental state as when she says she thinks that a lake bigger than Lake Michigan exists⎯i.e., does she refer to the same kind of cognitive attitude in both cases? Using evidence from linguistic corpora (Study 1) and behavioral experiments (Studies 2-4), the current work provides evidence that individuals typically use the word “believe” more in conjunction with statements about religious credences and “think” more in conjunction with factual statements, pointing to two different understandings of claims made with these two terms. These patterns do not appear to reflect low-level differences based on the amount of consensus surrounding a particular claim, the extent to which the truth of a particular claim is known to the participant, or linguistic differences between religious and factual statements. We discuss implications of these findings for religious cognition (e.g., as supporting the theory that religious credences are qualitatively distinct from factual beliefs) as well as cognitive processes more broadly. Finally, we relate the present findings to prior theoretical work on differences between factual belief and religious credence.

Author's Profile

Casey Landers
Texas State University


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