Religion tends to suppress analytical thinking in our brains, says study

Mar 26, 2016 - 3:27pm AST

A study conducted by the Case Western Reserve University and Babson College have concluded that the history long clash between religion and science stems from a clash within two networks in our brains. The research was published in the PLOS ONE journal.

They found that those who believed in supernatural spirits tend to suppress the area of our brain responsible for more analytical thinking in favour of engaging our more empathetic network while those who take a more scientific approach mentally suppress empathy and take a more analytical approach to life.

“When there’s a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd,” said Tony Jack, who led the research. “But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical/analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.”

“A stream of research in cognitive psychology has shown and claims that people who have faith (i.e., are religious or spiritual) are not as smart as others. They actually might claim they are less intelligent.,” said Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor and professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve, and a member of Jack’s team.

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The study was based on a series of eight different questionnaire and thought-based experiments with between 159 to 527 adults in each group.

They found solid statistical evidence linking to two occurrences (analytical behaviour with science and empathy with religion). They also found that women were generally more religious than men because of their nature of displaying more empathy than men. It also explains why almost all psychopaths have atheist beliefs as they display little to no empathy towards others.

Earlier research using MRI machines showed that the brain is in a constant war of being analytical or empathetic. It doesn’t mean that once one area takes control, the other shuts off, but rather this and previous studies show that more emphasis is put on one area. This means that it’s not completely fair to say that 100% of the time, someone who is more analytical is likely to be anti-religious.

Jared Friedman, a research assistant and recent graduate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science said, “Having empathy doesn’t mean you necessarily have anti-scientific beliefs. Instead, our results suggest that if we only emphasize analytic reasoning and scientific beliefs, as the New Atheist movement suggests, then we are compromising our ability to cultivate a different type of thinking, namely social/moral insight.”

The scientists believe that the suppression of one area or the other tends to result in the creation of extremes, and this new understanding could lead to us as human beings being able to better balance conversations of science and religion without writing off one or the other.

“Far from always conflicting with science, under the right circumstances religious belief may positively promote scientific creativity and insight,” Jack said. “Many of history’s most famous scientists were spiritual or religious. Those noted individuals were intellectually sophisticated enough to see that there is no need for religion and science to come into conflict.”

Jack also mentioned:

“Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world; that’s the business of science. Science should inform our ethical reasoning, but it cannot determine what is ethical or tell us how we should construct meaning and purpose in our lives.”

[Press Release: EurekAlertImage]

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