Because of the prevalence of religious beliefs in cultures throughout the world, psychologists have explored why a belief in God is so common. It is clear that there are many different factors that come together to support a belief in God. For example, people tend to view even random events as having a cause, and God provides a good explanation for these seemingly random events. The belief in God may also reduce people’s anxiety when faced with events that would be hard to explain otherwise.
An interesting paper by Amitai Shenhav, David Rand, and Joshua Greene in the August, 2012 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General suggests that people’s thinking style may also influence the strength of people’s belief in God.
Many different theories propose that there are two inter-related systems of thought. One is a more intuitive system that helps people to make fast judgments. The second is a more reflective system that allows people to reason through complex problems.
A classic example of these systems in action involves a simple math problem: You go to the store and buy a bat and a ball. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. Together they cost $1.10. How much did the ball cost?
Many people have an immediate intuition that the ball cost ten cents. After thinking about this problem further, though, you may realize that the ball actually costs five cents with the bat costing one dollar more ($1.05). Even after you realize the correct answer to the problem, though, you can still see the appeal of the incorrect answer that the ball costs ten cents. The fact that the wrong answer is still appealing even after you know the correct answer is an indication that there are two distinct systems of reasoning that are giving you different answers to the question.
Shenhav, Rand, and Greene suggest that an intuitive style of reasoning may also increase people’s belief in God. They explored this question in two ways.