Tuoreen tutkimuksen mukaan usko yliluonnolliseen ei niinkään johdu intuitiivisuudesta tai muista kognitiivisista taipumuksista vaan lähinnä sosiaaliskulttuurisista ja kasvatuksellisista seikoista (Farias ym. 2017). Kyse olisi siis enemmän aivoja asuttavasta meemistä ja kulttuuriperimästä kuin primitiivisestä perstuntumasta. Asiassa saattaa toki olla huomattavasti kulttuurien välistä vaihtelua riippuen vaikkapa yhteiskunnan uskonnollisuudesta. (Artikkelissa mukana Riikka Möttönen Oxfordista.)
According to the Intuitive Belief Hypothesis, supernatural belief relies heavily on intuitive thinking—and decreases when analytic thinking is engaged. After pointing out various limitations in prior attempts to support this Intuitive Belief Hypothesis, we test it across three new studies using a variety of paradigms, ranging from a pilgrimage field study to a neurostimulation experiment. In all three studies, we found no relationship between intuitive or analytical thinking and supernatural belief. We conclude that it is premature to explain belief in gods as ‘intuitive’, and that other factors, such as socio-cultural upbringing, are likely to play a greater role in the emergence and maintenance of supernatural belief than cognitive style.
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Another possibility is that the Intuitive Belief Hypothesis is fundamentally wrong. Its key assumption that belief in the supernatural is the natural by-product of ordinary cognition does not easily explain the hundreds of millions of people who reject such beliefs. The related hypothesis that non-believers are able to cognitively inhibit the default tendency to believe is also unlikely from an evolutionary perspective, as it would require too much cognitive effort to continuously suppress supernatural ideas and attributions. In this respect, we should note that there are other recent failed experiments of the larger ‘naturalness of religion’ theory. For example, the idea that we are compelled to see supernatural agents because we possess an innate perceptual ‘hyperactive agency detection device’ has been tested and disconfirmed across various experiments.
How do supernatural beliefs arise? These are possibly the earliest kind of structured human beliefs as evidenced by archaeological findings of how dead bodies were carefully disposed of as early as the Neanderthals. There is ample evidence that supernatural beliefs play an important function in meaning-making, emotional compensation, and potentially in the modulation of physiological responses. They fulfill a need to predict and perceive the world, and to reduce uncertainty in the environment by generating ideas about the ultimate structure of the world and how to act in it. But this doesn’t necessarily imply that we are ‘born believers’ in the way we inevitably learn a language at an early age. What is actually suggested by the wealth of sociological, historical, and other data is that whether one has strong supernatural beliefs or none at all is primarily based on social and educational factors and not on core cognitive dispositions.
The very idea that belief is natural is historically rooted in an attempt by early modern scientists to find God in nature. Although the scientific methods we used have changed, some of the ideas keep coming back in different guises. Our studies here suggest that it is probably about time psychologists reconsider their understanding of belief as ‘natural’ or ‘intuitive’, and instead focus on cultural and social learning factors that give rise to supernatural ideas. Religious belief may be rooted in our society and culture (a sociocultural ‘meme’), rather than in some primitive gut intuition.
Farias, M. ym. (2017): Supernatural Belief Is Not Modulated by Intuitive Thinking Style or Cognitive Inhibition. Nature Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 15100.