Cognitive style influences belief in God

From Shenhav A, Rand DG, Greene JD:

Some have argued that belief in God is intuitive, a natural (by-)product of the human mind given its cognitive structure and social context. If this is true, the extent to which one believes in God may be influenced by one’s more general tendency to rely on intuition versus reflection. Three studies support this hypothesis, linking intuitive cognitive style to belief in God. Study 1 showed that individual differences in cognitive style predict belief in God. Participants completed the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; Frederick, 2005), which employs math problems that, although easily solvable, have intuitively compelling incorrect answers. Participants who gave more intuitive answers on the CRT reported stronger belief in God. This effect was not mediated by education level, income, political orientation, or other demographic variables. Study 2 showed that the correlation between CRT scores and belief in God also holds when cognitive ability (IQ) and aspects of personality were controlled. Moreover, both studies demonstrated that intuitive CRT responses predicted the degree to which individuals reported having strengthened their belief in God since childhood, but not their familial religiosity during childhood, suggesting a causal relationship between cognitive style and change in belief over time. Study 3 revealed such a causal relationship over the short term: Experimentally inducing a mindset that favors intuition over reflection increases self-reported belief in God.

The link is here and for the pointer I thank Razib Khan on Twitter.


I predict the results of the test would be inverted if the beliefs in question were Darwinian evolution or global warming. People who believe in God but who are unable to correctly analyze simple math problems would also tend on average not believe in evolution or global warming.

I think it might be the opposite. One theory is that those same intuits have to switch their belief from God to some other big theory.

"One theory"? You mean yours? Given your loose terminology I can see how you might conflate belief in a god with theoretical science.

Yes, mine would be one theory. I conflate nothing and you don't make much of an argument.

"In modern contexts, while theories in the arts and philosophy may address ideas and empirical phenomena which are not easily measurable, in modern science the term "theory", or "scientific theory" is generally understood to refer to a proposed explanation of empirical phenomena, made in a way consistent with scientific method. Such theories are preferably described in such a way that any scientist in the field is in a position to understand, verify, and challenge (or "falsify") it. "

What is your problem? Are you saying that I implied that there is a body of literature on the subject? I didn't. You are looking for your keys under the lamp post. That's my problem with you people.

Hypothesis is probably more appropriate, and I considered it briefly, but I figured someone would complain that it wasn't presented in a formalized testable form. You don't like me using words to match your preferred conntation. Fine. What word would you like me to use?

I am sorry Andrew. That was way too pedantic. You point is better the second time around. An intuitive approach might lead to uncritical acceptance of any number of ideas. Not that you are saying those ideas have equivalent foundations.

Well, my....ummm... reasoning(?)... is that intuition is almost by definition non-rational in this context. So, it is going to take in a lot of inputs that are not germane to the actual subject. For example, I attend church and I think a lot of the people their attend church because other people attend church. I can't really get anyone to explain to me exactly why I should attend church. The reason is they don't really reflect on the question because church attendance has a lot of other benefits to them. If I were to even ask them the question in detail, they would be repulsed by it/me. I like that kind of discussion because I can easilly separate concepts and not have one threatened by another that is not germane. They can't. Incidentally, I see the same thing happen in...other areas ;)

Right. It seems it all comes down to whether people can keeps their domains straight or simply recognize that there are domains in the first place.

Maybe if scientists weren't screwing me all day every day I'd have more camaraderie and care more about getting the jargon right.

Lets see. I believe in God, have upper decile math skills according to several standardized tests, but I'm agnostic about Darwin (could be, no one has made an empirical observation of one species giving birth to another) and of course there's "climate change". Where I am now, 100 million years ago was a lush swamp. 10-20,000 years ago, was an ice age. But no, I don't worship at Al Gore's church.

Goddamn it, I wish we could see what one of these intuitively compelling incorrect problem/answers are.

From the sample questions:

"3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake?"

Intuitively, there is no lake that big. Let's turn to reflection: leave aside the heap paradox — it's clear a "patch" of lily pads has at least one pad. If this patch doubles in size every day, you have over 2.56 x 10^14 lily pads after 48 days — or 256 trillion. Not knowing much about lily pads, I'd guess the smallest are 10 cm^2. So that's a lake surface of 2.56 x 10^12 m^2, or 2.56 x 10^6 km^2, or 2,560,000 km^2, or 1600 x 1600 km, or around 1000 miles by 1000 miles.

Checking intuition about lakes with Wikipedia: 1000 x 1000 miles, or a million square miles, is around 7 times as big as the Caspian Sea, which might not even count as a lake (good luck getting lily pads to grow in salt water); looking at fresh-water lakes, it's around 22 times the size of Huron-Michigan.

Of course, that's the intuition of a computer guy, wherein any more doublings than 20 (a multiplication of roughly 1,000,000) are eyebrow-raising.

On a different note, what if the whole-lake number were odd: 47, say. Would fewer people be tripped up by their intuition?

The answer was 47. How you got your Intuitive answer makes no sense to me. I am curious as to what your reflections are like. I'm thinking the average intuitive person thought half the size and figured half the time.

“A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the
ball cost?” The response $0.10 springs immediately to mind, but the correct answer is $0.05.

You can also read the entire study report at:

That would be a bad idea for dirk, since that very question is the paper's only example.

(You're welcome, dirk. Folks, please make sure the stuff you link is relevant.)

!. Anthropomorphic Global warming is a fraud, and it is most likely that sustained and permanent warming of any sort is a fraud too. If you think otherwise, you do not know much about Science. So-called "Climate Science" is not a "science" at all; It is a bag of opinions supported by dubious data, a hodgepodge of methods with no well founded underlying theory and a very naive use of statistics and computer modeling. It lacks empiricism of any real experimental sort and therefore its conclusions are not falsifiable in any scientific sense. At best it is at the level of Psychology of "Social Science" which is to say it is not science at all.

2. Christianity has created the great culture of the West, of which science is a part. Pseudoscienctifc and "pseud-'rationalist", left-wing modern atheists merely show their lack of knowledge and shallowness of thought making these childish slurs against the religious.

3. This sort of crude and obtuse materialist determinism--"religious belief is a epiphenomenon of bio-chemistry"--rather misses the whole point: The fact of couscous itself, and the movement towards God is an innate property of Man because he is made in God's image. They are mistaking mechanism for meaning, and wholly dodging the origins or the implications of human intelligence or consciousness. It is a ontological and epistemological parlor trick based on circular reasoning.. There are many way to debunk all of this--here is a simple one: The fact that you can make judgements at all that have any purchase in the real world point to supernatural (that is "above nature") absolutes, and these absolutes point toward God. The rationality of Christianity was put froward long ago--read St Augustine. Moreover, that rationalism of the Scholastics laid the groundwork for the nascent science of the early modern period.

3. The issues of Religion has occupied some of the best minds of history (jdm, you are most certainly not one of them). Their works and conclusions are well recorded. Go study them and try to understand them before you start pontificating on the dull wittedness of the religious. You may find that it s they rather than you who are concerned with the true nature of man and the Cosmos.This sort of glib, ill-educated slander and libel of religious people more shows how vile the nature and low ihe culture of atheistic left than reflects on the religious. The notion that "the intelligent" must be so by way of their adherence to whatever the Leftist delusions of the day are underlines this, and is risible i ts absurdity and irrationality.

3. I agree, couscous itself is evidence for God, for who else could have created such delicious food?

Now wait a minute. I thought the West created the Christianity you know and love, or at least made it more digestible.

thought the West created the Christianity.

Other way around.

You are of course correct, but most people aren't interested in learning about the evolution of Christianity or the number of heresies. One would think it's telling that the center of Christianity was Rome and not Jerusalem.

Your allegations make global warming sad :(

Who wants to bet growup has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at some point in his life? I worked with mentally ill homeless folks in college, they came up with more coherent theories.

A Global Warming Lexicon:
- Anthropomorphic Global Warming: Global warming personified
- Anthropophagous Global Warming: Global warming with a taste for human flesh
- Anthropometric Global Warming: Global warming as a way to measure humans
- Anthropogenic Global Warming: Global warming caused by human activity
- Anthropocene Global Warming: Global warming during the most recent epoch


1. You are wrong about climate science. If you can't accept evidence, though, there's going to be no persuading you. I can guarantee you that the farmers in Idaho dealing with novel and persistant flooding disagree, though.

2. Christianity initially destroyed thousands of years of human knowledge. It is only in the last 20% of its lifespan that it has stopped hobbling the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. The idea that it has been a net positive for the pursuit of science is laughable, especially if we are comparing it to the Taoist and Confucian traditions of China.

3. The universe is vast, and even on our tiny world humans aren't unique with the exception of having developed writing. Which Christianity spent a great deal of time keeping from the vast majority of the population. We are no more made in God's image (whichever God you happen to be talking about) than elephants or dolphins are. Instead our individual intelligence is the result of the emergent properties of our endocrine and nervous systems, and our societies are the result of the emergent interactions of these individually-contained intelligences. One of those emergent properties is believing ourself special and unique, to the point of inventing God to validate our belief in our own specialness. Otherwise there would be evidence of God from before the emergence of humans, or in early human civilization even. There isn't. Religion can be incredibly useful. It probably was what lead to the original rise of civilization. But that doesn't mean it isn't the invention of human minds just like all the other trappings of a civilized world.

Religion is a useful fairy tale and nothing more. Atheism is the null hypothesis, and the religious can't even decide on which hypothesis they would offer evidence for.

Growup, no offence, I am just a first year student required to post comment on a blog. It is one of my assignments. And religion always sparked interest in me.
I respect your views, even though you clearly do not respect others. So judgmental man? Your kind of a hypocrite for criticizing left wings for being shallow and narrow minded when your whole post was shallow and narrow minded. I am just guessing, but you must be a right wing conservative. I hope you are not fueled by the church. Anyways, I have gone to Catholic school for Five years of my life now and if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the church contradicts itself constantly. I have learned that the church used to give pardons (get into heaven card), used to kill others for land (crusades), and even tries to take away people’s rights (abortion, premarital sex).The church is constantly changing its views too. Science has proved the church wrong on several occasions. So rather than arguing against science, they change their stand point to go along with science. To me, the church interferes too much, especially with the state.
Also, global warming does exist. Everyone is trying to their part to prevent global warming. It is arrogant people like you, who don’t believe in global warming, that make me… slightly sad. Arrogance? You have something in common with the church.

Just to give a reality check : it doesn't talk about the binary question of belief/non-belief in God, but (self-reported) **strength** of belief in God. So it is still possible that a good chunk of the "reflection guys" are mild believers in God, but their effect is killed by strong believers in God.

So one may not be able to conclude a believer vs atheist distinction. I am reminded of someone's quote, that Dawkins et al are very christian in their unbelief.

I don't like the use of averages for these binary questions.

I'm never sure how to answer these questions. I have no belief in God, but am an ardent believer in god. What do I do?

Yet another test might yield startling results, too: some kind of survey of "hard" scientists confronting the wholly inexplicable. Although apologists for atheism since the mid-19th century have commonly repaired to evolutionary biology with an avidity rivaling rabid Protestant fundamentalism (has the fervor of anachronistic or positivistic scientism itself yet been accounted for?), cosmologists and astrophysicists and astronomers continue to routinely encounter phenomena for which no explanation is possible given the present state of the scientific enterprise (I don't know whether evolutionary biologists have even begun to absorb the enormity of the signs that the baryonic matter we know and love comprises only a scant 5% roughly of the known and visible universe or exactly what impact the seeming existence of gravitational anomalies on the scale of the Alpha Concentration [Norma Cluster + Great Attractor + Shapley Supercluster] pose). Espouse agnosticism the livelong day, but it begins to appear that "classical atheism" is no longer tenable on a strictly scientific basis.
There is belief, and then there is belief. There is unbelief, and then there is unbelief. Some clever person(s) can doubtlessly contrive some metric for testing these positions. --Unfortunately, I lack the mathematical aptitude to devise such a test.

Another interpretation of these and similar results may be that the rational types are slaves to their personality preferences just like the intuitive types. Maybe it's 'better' to be a slave to rationality, or maybe it's just different.

I am sure such a study has been done and shows markedly lower levels of belief in god in such scientists. You would not be a very good astrophysicist if, upon learning that normal matter makes up only 5% of the mass of the universe, you concluded that the other 95% was god.

Concomitantly, it can be argued that, short of resolving lingering disputes concerning the nature (or existence) of wave function collapse and quantum decoherence, it is a poor rationalist who could claim with any iota of credibility that he knows god not to exist. (The deity need not occupy the realms of dark matter or dark energy themselves perzacktly, but the latter do seem to offer appreciable depths of insulation from the realm of baryonic matter.) The measurement problem for quantum mechanics has not been resolved yet by any application of mathematics. In the absence of that resolution, I incline to (and am willing to ascribe to all) an epistemological stance of “cognitive voluntarism”, as I cannot know that (or how) quantum oscillations can or must be overcome in this scheme of things. –but then, I still have not found a compelling explanation of how isotope 232 of thorium is still held to have a half-life that exceeds the age of the universe as suggested by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.

It would be interesting to note how this comports with belief levels among adults with ADHD. IIRC one aspect of ADHD is a predisposition toward intuition. It would be especially interesting to compare this with the religious beliefs of folks with both ADHD and high IQ's.

Incidentally, autism and atheism may be linked:


"HFA individuals thus resemble another group of high-systemizers (scientists), who also reject religious belief at a relatively high rate."

I wonder if scientists reject it like they would a hypothesis, accepting the null. Then you get in a place that rewards signals of that belief and you get some feedback effects. There are no benefits to expending further effort in attempts to 'believe' so it just never happens, and since everyone is so scientific-like, everyone assumes everyone else got their deductively.

Oh, and PDF:

As alluded to above, give someone with the opposite position the same data and they will very likely arrive at the opposite conclusion. Whether it's a scientific study like this one or a book like "The Bell Curve," I've learned from experience that diving in and trying to sort out "scientism" from actual insight in these types of publications does not bear fruit commensurate with the effort.

Isn't it just as likely to be the other way around, that a belief in God, at least in the West, encourages people to rely more on intuition, because it makes it easier to identify one's intuitive apperceptions as the promptings of the Spirit? Whereas those who have no a priori reason to trust their intuitions are forced to adopt a more cautious, analytic approach? Correlation is not causation, you know.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Nothing new. Ernest Becker showed in Denial of Death that the Christianity made creature consciousness a necessary condition for salvation.

‎Søren Kierkegaard would possibly argue that someone who don't realize that religous doctrine is inherently doubtful and that there cannot be objective certainty about its truth does not have faith, but is merely credulous. Thus different cognitive styles would influence different types of believing, not just believing or not believing.

Maybe the study has the causation reversed. Maybe if you believe in God, God bestows higher quality intuition on you. Those who have higher quality intuition should naturally rely on it more than those who don't.

Nope. Read the study. Despite using words like "intuitive" vs "reflective" roughly 5 times as often as "incorrect" vs "correct", what they're really measuring is the latter. A hypothetical subject with higher quality intuition would simply have given the correct answers more quickly, which in their poorly-named testing scheme would have appeared as "reflective/unintuitive" and shown a negative correlation with strength of religious belief.

Wow, excellent point that completely destroys the entire study. Good show!

Yeah, my thoughts as well...they've sort of assumed that intuitive=dumb; who is not to say that a large number of the reflective group was not actually just intuitive people with better than average intuition, and a large part of the intuitive group were just reflective people that are bad at math?

What does "believe in God" mean? Will any old god do?

Is there any relationship between Asperger's syndrome and (lack of) belief in God? Just curious - thought it might follow from this hypothesis.

The study is not without some very serious limitations. A critique was done here:

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