Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life’s purpose

Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life’s purpose

Cognitive theories of religion have postulated several cognitive biases that predispose human minds towards religious belief. However, to date, these hypotheses have not been tested simultaneously and in relation to each other, using an individual difference approach. We used a path model to assess the extent to which several interacting cognitive tendencies, namely mentalizing, mind body dualism, teleological thinking, and anthropomorphism, as well as cultural exposure to religion, predict belief in God, paranormal beliefs and belief in life’s purpose. Our model, based on two independent samples (N = 492 and N = 920) found that the previously known relationship between mentalizing and belief is mediated by individual differences in dualism, and to a lesser extent by teleological thinking. Anthropomorphism was unrelated to religious belief, but was related to paranormal belief. Cultural exposure to religion (mostly Christianity) was negatively related to anthropomorphism, and was unrelated to any of the other cognitive tendencies. These patterns were robust for both men and women, and across at least two ethnic identifications. The data were most consistent with a path model suggesting that mentalizing comes first, which leads to dualism and teleology, which in turn lead to religious, paranormal, and life’s-purpose beliefs. Alternative theoretical models were tested but did not find empirical support.
The paper is online here:
The study is actually interesting, even in the very biased way it was presented. Unless I misinterpreted it, they measured 'mentalizing' using an empathy test, then discovered a correlation between mentalizing and belief in various transcendent concepts. So people with who scored higher on empathy are more likely to believe in God and a purpose in life.

But why couldn't this study also be presented with the opposite slant? To me, lack of empathy is the more disturbing type of 'cognitive bias'. One could have just as easily titled the study "People who lack empathy more likely to be Atheists". We could even have a follow up study to determine the brain defect that causes these poor atheists to lack empathy. :P