What do you think? (2023)

special feature

Psychologists study the causes and effects of atheism and discover that believers and non-believers may have more in common than they realize.

Vonkirsten dump Creation date: July 1, 2020 11 minute read

Flight. 51, no. 5
Printed version: page 52

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Weir, K. (2020, July 1). What do you think?psychology monitor,51(5). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/glauben

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What do you think? (1)

"In God We Trust" may be the official motto of the United States, but religious faith in the country appears to be on the decline.

The Pew Research Center found that 4% of American adults identified as atheists and 5% as agnostics in 2018 and 2019, compared to 2% of atheists and 3% of agnostics in 2009. Another 17% of Americans identified their religion as "nothing special." . in the survey, an increase from 12% on 2009 (Pew Research Center, 2019).

Surveys may underestimate the true number of nonbelievers because atheists often face stigma and may be reluctant to identify themselves, says Dr. Will Gervais, an evolutionary and cultural psychologist at the University of Kentucky. His analysis suggests that the true prevalence of atheism may be closer to 26% and is almost certainly higher than 11% (social psychology and personality science, Flight. 9, No. 1, 2018).

Despite growing numbers, atheists and agnostics are not well understood. Despite all the research on religion and spirituality, the systematic study of non-believers has only begun in the last 10-15 years. "For a hundred years, [psychologists] have looked at faith primarily through the lens of Protestant Christianity," says Miguel Farias, PhD, professor of psychology and leader of the Brain, Belief and Behavior group at Coventry University in England. "Recently we realized that there are all these people that we haven't really looked at. To really look at beliefs, we have to consider all the different things that atheists or agnostics might believe."

With this change, researchers have begun to paint a clearer picture of the psychology of disbelief. And while atheists still face prejudice in religious nations like the United States, plenty of evidence suggests that disbelievers and believers aren't that different.

Analytical atheists?

Unbelief comes in many forms. Technically, an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in a god, while an agnostic is someone who doesn't believe it's possible to know for sure that a god exists. It is possible to be both: an agnostic atheist does not believe, but he also does not believe that we can know if there is a god. A Gnostic atheist, on the other hand, believes with certainty that there is no God.

However, unbelievers often use these terms imprecisely, and many people who do not believe in a god prefer no term at all. Farias co-authored a report for the multi-agency, interdisciplinary research program Understanding Disbelief, a three-year project exploring disbelief in Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The team found that only a fraction of non-believers used the terms "atheist" or "agnostic", often preferring terms like "non-religious", "spiritual but not religious", "secular", "humanist" or "freethinker". . In the United States, for example, only 39% of people who said they did not believe in God identified as atheists (understand disbelief, University of Kent, 2019).

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Despite the confusing definitions, researchers are beginning to examine the factors that affect whether someone believes. Some prominent and outspoken atheists, such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, PhD, have argued that anyone with keen critical thinking skills should reject religion. According to this mindset, people with stronger analytical skills are more likely to be disbelievers, since belief in a higher power requires belief in something that cannot be proven. The downside to this argument is that believers tend to be more intuitive and trust their intuition that a God exists, even in the absence of hard evidence.

As early as 2012, Gervais was one of several researchers who published findings suggesting that analytic thinking was associated with atheism (Science, volume 336, no. 6080, 2012). However, recent research challenges the notion that analytical thinking leads people to reject religion. โ€œToday's landscape is much more differentiated,โ€ says Gervais.

For example, Farias examined analytical versus intuitive thinking in two different populations: a culturally and religiously diverse group of people on a spiritual pilgrimage in Spain and adults from the general population in the UK. In both groups, the researchers found no connection between intuitive thinking and religious belief. In a related experiment, Farias used neurostimulation to improve participants' cognitive inhibition, or their ability to stop intuitive thoughts and impulsive behaviors. If the belief is associated with intuitive thinking, increasing cognitive inhibition should make people more skeptical of supernatural beliefs. However, the researchers found that reducing cognitive inhibition had no effect on religious or spiritual beliefs (scientific reports, Flight. 7, item 15100, 2017).

โ€œThese experiments suggest that there is no connection between analytical thinking and atheism or agnosticism,โ€ says Farias.

Other results have supported this conclusion. Looking beyond the United States, Gervais and his colleagues drew on a global sample of more than 13 different societies to examine the link between belief and cognitive reflection, the tendency to ignore gut reactions and think about problems. . They found that cognitive reflection was associated with atheism in only three countries: Australia, Singapore, and the United States. And even in countries where the association held out, the proportion was modest (judgment and decision making, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2018). "Popular [modern] atheist discourses tout how rational and analytical they are [but that] isn't really supported by our best science," says Gervais.

Although atheists are not inherently analytical, there is evidence that some embrace a scientific worldview. Because religious people often turn to their faith to help them deal with stress and anxiety, Farias wondered if non-believers might put their faith in science in times of stress. He compared two groups of competitive rowers, one group about to enter a high-impact competition and the other in a low-impact training session. Both groups demonstrated little religiosity, but rowers in the high-stress group reported a higher belief in science than rowers in the low-stress group. In a second experiment, Farias got people to think about their own mortality, a scenario that often leads people to defend their belief systems. The primed group also reported a higher belief in science than a control group.

Taken together, these results suggest that science, like religion, can be a source of personal meaning (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 49, No. 6, 2013). "In some countries, including the US and the UK, science has become divine in a way," says Farias.

Other research also suggests that unbelievers can find meaning in science and nature. A study led by Jesse L. Preston, PhD, of the University of Warwick in England, found that while religious people cite religious events as a source of spirituality, non-believers cite spiritual experiences related to nature, science, meditation, etc -called "peak experiences" (for example, motorcycling or psychedelics). Although the sources of spirituality varied, both religious and non-religious people were amazed by the experiences (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Flight. 70, No. 1, 2017).

religion and health

Atheists can find moments of spirituality on a mountain hike or roller coaster ride, but are these experiences as useful as religion? A large body of research indicates that membership in religious organizations and attendance at religious services are associated with better health.

"The logical implication of this research is that if religion is good, atheists should be less healthy, but we didn't find that," says David Speed, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Using data from the 2008 General Social Survey, a large survey of a representative sample of US adults, Speed โ€‹โ€‹compared people who believed in God and those who did not believe in God and found that both groups they shared similar levels of self-esteem. - Health reported. However, what is notable is that convinced atheists experienced religiosity more negatively than believers. When people who said they did not believe in God reported unusually high attendance at religious events (p.Religion and Health Magazine, Flight. 55, No. 1, 2016).

โ€œThis suggests that religious attendance or prayer has no intrinsic benefit. You have to have the right mindset to reap the benefits,โ€ says Speed.

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When it comes to health benefits, belief may be less important than all the other things that go along with participating in organized religion, say Speed โ€‹โ€‹and Luke Galen, PhD, professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. In reviewing the literature on the benefits of religious belief, Galen found that most of the benefits of religiosity can be attributed to factors such as social engagement and membership in a supportive social network. Just as religious people benefit from belonging to a religious group, atheists experience greater well-being when they are involved in like-minded groups, such as humanist organizations or atheist alliances (Science, religion and culture, Flight. 2, No. 3, 2015).

"It's not religious belief that's the special sauce. It's easy to be a member of a support group of like-minded people," he says.

Some of Galen's other work suggests that having strong beliefs about your worldview may be more important than what you think. He found that both religious believers and atheists who were confident in their beliefs reported greater overall well-being than those who were unsure or confused about their belief in God (Mental health, religion and culture, Flight. 14, No. 7, 2011).

โ€œPeople in the middle of the curve may have some level of stress or anxiety related to inconsistency in their world view,โ€ he says.

meaning inside

Good health is not the only positive result attributed to religion. Research also suggests that religious belief is associated with prosocial behaviors such as volunteering and charitable giving.

But as with the health benefits, Galen's work suggests that such prosocial benefits have more to do with group membership in general than with religious beliefs or membership in a particular religious group.Research on social indicators, Vol. 122, No. 2, 2015). In fact, he says, while religious people are more likely to volunteer or donate to faith-related charities, atheists appear to be more generous to a broader range of different causes and groups.

However, atheists and other non-believers still face significant stigma and are often perceived as less moral than their religious counterparts. In a study of 13 countries, Gervais and his colleagues found that people in most countries intuitively believed that extreme moral violations (such as murder and maiming) would be perpetrated by atheists rather than religious believers. This anti-atheist bias also applied to people who identified as atheists, suggesting that religious culture exerts a powerful influence on moral judgments, even among non-believers (nature of human behavior, Flight. 1, item 0151, 2017).

However, non-religious people are similar to religious people in many ways. As part of the Understanding Unbelief project, Farias and her colleagues found that in the six countries they studied, both believers and non-believers identified family and freedom as the most important values โ€‹โ€‹in their own lives and in the rest of the world. The team also found evidence to counter the common assumption that atheists believe that life is meaningless. They noted that the belief that the universe is "ultimately meaningless" was a minority opinion among non-believers in all countries.

โ€œPeople assume that [non-believers] have very different values โ€‹โ€‹and ideas about the world, but it seems like they probably don't,โ€ says Farias.

For the non-religious, however, the meaning comes from within and not from above. Again using data from the General Social Survey, Speed โ€‹โ€‹and his colleagues found that in the United States, atheists and people with no religious affiliation are no more likely to believe that life is meaningless than religious people or that they were raised with a religious affiliation. . However, atheists and the non-religious tended to believe that meaning is self-produced (SAGE Open, Flight. 8, No. 1, 2018).

"There's no [higher power] telling them to love their families or work hard or be a good person, but they seem to come to very similar conclusions," Speed โ€‹โ€‹says.

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Neither the believer nor the unbeliever can claim moral superiority, adds Gervais. โ€œIf you zoom out, religions may have helped cement collaboration on a large scale [throughout human history]. In fact, zooming in right now, it is the most secular countries in the world that are doing the best job of caring for the most vulnerable, not being violent, and doing other things that seem moral,โ€ he says. "So it's complicated, but we can say with enough confidence that the intuitive association between religion and morality is much stronger than any real relationship."

In the United States, a nation steeped in religious traditions, much remains to be learned about non-believers. And there are good reasons to try, since the belief exists "at the intersection of culture, evolution and cognition," says Gervais. "Religion is a central aspect of human nature, and any scientific explanation of religion must include atheism."

keep reading

Special Edition: Atheism, Agnosticism, and Non-Religious Worldviews
Hood, R.W., Jr., et al. (Hrsg.),Psychology of religion and spirituality, 2018

Schiavone, S. R. y Gervais, W. M.,Compass Social and personality psychology, 2017

Understanding Disbelief: Atheists and Agnostics Around the World
Bullivant, S., et al., University of Kent, 2019

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Weir, K. (2020, July 1). What do you think?psychology monitor,51(5). https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/glauben

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