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It has previously been suggested that the historically and geographically widespread persistence of religious beliefs occurs because it is a by-product of normal cognitive processes, ones which first evolved to confer survival advantages in the social domain. If this theory holds, then it is likely that inter-individual variation in the same biases may predict corresponding variation in religious thoughts and behaviors. Using an online questionnaire, 298 participants answered questions regarding their tendency to detect agency, the degree to which they displayed schizotypal traits, their ability to understand the emotions and motivations of others ("mentalizing"), and their religious beliefs and behaviors. Path analysis suggests that mentalizing, agency detection, and schizotypal thinking were each independently related to religiosity. Furthermore, schizotypal thinking and agency detection were highly interrelated with one another, whereas mentalizing was not. Although the degree to which an individual engages with religious or spiritual beliefs will be influenced by their cultural and historical context, this paper helps to elucidate the interplay between various cognitive processes that might predispose some individuals but not others toward holding such beliefs in the first place.

Original publication

DOI

10.1007/s12110-016-9256-9

Type

Journal article

Journal

Hum Nat

Publication Date

06/2016

Volume

27

Pages

160 - 172

Keywords

Agency, Agency detection, Empathy, Mentalizing, Religious belief, Schizotypy, Theory of mind