Religious beliefs shaped by one’s environment, upbringing


Religious beliefs are not connected to intuition, according to a study conducted by Coventry University and the University of Oxford. Previous studies indicated that people with strong religious beliefs are more intuitive and less analytical. However, religious beliefs are shaped by one’s upbringing.

From a philosophical perspective, there is a dispute over whether one’s belief in gods is powered by intuition or logic. For over a century, sociologists anticipated that rationality will surpass intuition and the disintegration of religion. In the last 20 years, psychologists upheld the correlation between intuition and religious beliefs, clarifying that these beliefs are instinctive and preconscious.

Researchers challenged the idea that religious beliefs are driven by gut feelings by conducting three tests.

In the first study, they recruited 89 participants between the ages of 16 and 17. Researchers studied the participants’ pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostela, the capital of the self-governing community of Galicia in Spain. The pilgrimage began at the French Pyrenees, a range of mountains along the Franco-Spanish border. Researchers selected this pilgrimage because it was a time-consuming journey of 32 days.

Participants were Spanish, German, American, Brazilian, South Korean, Polish, Italian, Irish and French. 71 percent of participants identified as Christian, 20 percent were spiritual but not religious, 8 percent were atheist and 1 percent were Buddhist. Researchers used a probability bead game in which participants were instructed to take a color bead from two containers. The containers had differing amounts of colored and transparent beads. Participants then answered questions about their religious beliefs.

After conducting four trials, researchers found that the analytical option was made across all trials by 27 percent of participants, across two trials by 17 percent, across two trials for 28 percent and across one trial for 12 percent of participants. 73 percent of participants selected the intuitive option at least once.

In the second study, 37 participants between the ages of 18 and 40 were recruited. Researchers gave them mathematical puzzles to increase intuition. Participants were divided into experimental and control groups. There was no correlation between intuitive thinking and supernatural belief.

In the third study, 90 participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were recruited. Researchers used brain stimulation to expand levels of cognitive inhibition, which is believed to control analytical thinking. A harmless electrical current between two electrodes was put on a participant’s scalp. This electrical current stimulated the right inferior frontal gyrus, a region of the brain involved with inhibitory control. A preceding computerized tomography scan study discovered that atheists use this region of the brain when they want to restrain religious ideas.

The results indicated that while the stimulation of the brain intensified the levels of cognitive inhibition, it did not alter the levels of religious belief. This implies that there is no correlation between cognitive inhibition and religious belief.

There are multiple explanations for the discovery that religious beliefs are not linked to intuitive thinking. One likelihood is that researchers had a diverse group of participants. Previous researchers recruited U.S. participants, and most them were university students. This study used British participants, along with other Europeans.

Sociological reviews additionally confirm that Europe, including Britain, is less religious than the United States. It is possible that being religious in a secular region is cognitively difficult. This possibility is indirectly justified in surveys indicating that religious people under 35 in the United Kingdom are better educated than non-religious people. This is not evident in the United States.

There is a chance that religious belief may be linked, to a certain extent, with intuitive thinking in some cultural circumstances, such as Christianity in the United States, but not in others. In general, one’s upbringing is likely to play a more critical role than intuition in developing religious beliefs.

Nicholas Marrero, a senior majoring in journalism and creative writing, said he was not surprised by the study’s findings.

“I was raised in a Catholic household. But religious beliefs can change throughout a person’s lifetime. You can be brought up one way, but in a few years it can change. You don’t necessarily agree with the religion you were raised on. Religious beliefs depend on your overall experiences in life,” he said.

Anna Cascone, a senior majoring in corporate communications, agreed.

“Of course religious beliefs are influenced by your upbringing. It’s all about nature versus nurture. It has to do with self-identity. When I went to Europe, the people I met didn’t believe in anything. Yet people in New York are looking for answers. Religious beliefs have to do with self-identity,” she said.

This study was the first to defy the belief, which cognitive psychologists had over the past 20 years, that supernatural beliefs are innate views. Researchers confirmed that factors such as upbringing and socio-cultural processes influence religious beliefs.

“We don’t think people are ‘born believers’ in the same way we inevitably learn a language at an early age. The available sociological and historical data show that what we believe in is mainly based on social and educational factors, and not on cognitive styles, such as intuitive/analytical thinking,” said leading author of the study Miguel Farias.

Researchers propose that psychologists should re-assess their knowledge of belief as “innate,” and now concentrate on cultural and social factors that cause religious beliefs. Religious belief is embedded in culture, not intuition.