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Concept: Belief

284

Prior work has established that analytic thinking is associated with disbelief in God, whereas religious and spiritual beliefs have been positively linked to social and emotional cognition. However, social and emotional cognition can be subdivided into a number of distinct dimensions, and some work suggests that analytic thinking is in tension with some aspects of social-emotional cognition. This leaves open two questions. First, is belief linked to social and emotional cognition in general, or a specific dimension in particular? Second, does the negative relationship between belief and analytic thinking still hold after relationships with social and emotional cognition are taken into account? We report eight hypothesis-driven studies which examine these questions. These studies are guided by a theoretical model which focuses on the distinct social and emotional processing deficits associated with autism spectrum disorders (mentalizing) and psychopathy (moral concern). To our knowledge no other study has investigated both of these dimensions of social and emotion cognition alongside analytic thinking. We find that religious belief is robustly positively associated with moral concern (4 measures), and that at least part of the negative association between belief and analytic thinking (2 measures) can be explained by a negative correlation between moral concern and analytic thinking. Using nine different measures of mentalizing, we found no evidence of a relationship between mentalizing and religious or spiritual belief. These findings challenge the theoretical view that religious and spiritual beliefs are linked to the perception of agency, and suggest that gender differences in religious belief can be explained by differences in moral concern. These findings are consistent with the opposing domains hypothesis, according to which brain areas associated with moral concern and analytic thinking are in tension.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Belief, Faith, Autism, Mind, Religion, Spirituality

264

Though religion has been shown to have generally positive effects on normative ‘prosocial’ behavior, recent laboratory research suggests that these effects may be driven primarily by supernatural punishment. Supernatural benevolence, on the other hand, may actually be associated with less prosocial behavior. Here, we investigate these effects at the societal level, showing that the proportion of people who believe in hell negatively predicts national crime rates whereas belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates. These effects remain after accounting for a host of covariates, and ultimately prove stronger predictors of national crime rates than economic variables such as GDP and income inequality. Expanding on laboratory research on religious prosociality, this is the first study to tie religious beliefs to large-scale cross-national trends in pro- and anti-social behavior.

Concepts: Belief, Truth, Faith, Sociology, Science, Religion, Society, Christianity

252

Growing evidence indicates that religious belief helps individuals to cope with stress and anxiety. But is this effect specific to supernatural beliefs, or is it a more general function of belief - including belief in science? We developed a measure of belief in science and conducted two experiments in which we manipulated stress and existential anxiety. In Experiment 1, we assessed rowers about to compete (high-stress condition) and rowers at a training session (low-stress condition). As predicted, rowers in the high-stress group reported greater belief in science. In Experiment 2, participants primed with mortality (vs. participants in a control condition) reported greater belief in science. In both experiments, belief in science was negatively correlated with religiosity. Thus, some secular individuals may use science as a form of “faith” that helps them to deal with stressful and anxiety-provoking situations.

Concepts: Scientific method, Belief, Faith, Science, Experiment, Theory, Religion, Supernatural

79

Replication is vital for increasing precision and accuracy of scientific claims. However, when replications “succeed” or “fail,” they could have reputational consequences for the claim’s originators. Surveys of United States adults (N = 4,786), undergraduates (N = 428), and researchers (N = 313) showed that reputational assessments of scientists were based more on how they pursue knowledge and respond to replication evidence, not whether the initial results were true. When comparing one scientist that produced boring but certain results with another that produced exciting but uncertain results, opinion favored the former despite researchers' belief in more rewards for the latter. Considering idealized views of scientific practices offers an opportunity to address incentives to reward both innovation and verification.

Concepts: Scientific method, Critical thinking, Belief, Epistemology, Science, Accuracy and precision, Scientist, Pseudoscience

68

Research suggests climate change beliefs among science teachers mirror those of the general public, raising questions of whether teachers may be perpetuating polarization of public opinion through their classrooms. We began answering these questions with a survey of middle school science teachers (n = 24) and their students (n = 369) in North Carolina, USA. Similar to previous studies, we found that though nearly all (92.1%) of students had teachers who believe that global warming is happening, few (12%) are in classrooms with teachers who recognize that global warming is anthropogenic. We found that teacher beliefs that global warming is happening and student climate change knowledge were the strongest predictors of student belief that global warming is happening and human caused. Conversely, teacher beliefs about human causes of global warming had no relationship with student beliefs, suggesting that science teachers' low recognition of the causes of global warming is not necessarily problematic in terms of student outcomes. These findings may be explained by previous research suggesting adolescents interpret scientific information relatively independently of ideological constraints. Though teacher polarization may be problematic in its own right, it appears that as long as climate change information is presented in classrooms, students deduce anthropogenic causes.

Concepts: Belief, Truth, Epistemology, Education, Science, Climate change, Global warming, Opinion

53

Persecutory delusions may be unfounded threat beliefs maintained by safety-seeking behaviours that prevent disconfirmatory evidence being successfully processed. Use of virtual reality could facilitate new learning.

Concepts: Belief, Schizophrenia, Delusion, Delusional disorder, Paranoia, Virtual reality, Core issues in ethics, Persecutory delusions

52

On 22 February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand (population 367,700) experienced a devastating earthquake, causing extensive damage and killing one hundred and eighty-five people. The earthquake and aftershocks occurred between the 2009 and 2011 waves of a longitudinal probability sample conducted in New Zealand, enabling us to examine how a natural disaster of this magnitude affected deeply held commitments and global ratings of personal health, depending on earthquake exposure. We first investigated whether the earthquake-affected were more likely to believe in God. Consistent with the Religious Comfort Hypothesis, religious faith increased among the earthquake-affected, despite an overall decline in religious faith elsewhere. This result offers the first population-level demonstration that secular people turn to religion at times of natural crisis. We then examined whether religious affiliation was associated with differences in subjective ratings of personal health. We found no evidence for superior buffering from having religious faith. Among those affected by the earthquake, however, a loss of faith was associated with significant subjective health declines. Those who lost faith elsewhere in the country did not experience similar health declines. Our findings suggest that religious conversion after a natural disaster is unlikely to improve subjective well-being, yet upholding faith might be an important step on the road to recovery.

Concepts: Causality, Belief, Faith, Philosophy, New Zealand, Religion, Earthquake, God

49

In the present article we demonstrate stable individual differences in the extent to which a reliance on logic and evidence in the formation and evaluation of beliefs is perceived as a moral virtue, and a reliance on less rational processes is perceived as a vice. We refer to this individual difference variable as moralized rationality. Eight studies are reported in which an instrument to measure individual differences in moralized rationality is validated. Results show that the Moralized Rationality Scale (MRS) is internally consistent, and captures something distinct from the personal importance people attach to being rational (Studies 1-3). Furthermore, the MRS has high test-retest reliability (Study 4), is conceptually distinct from frequently used measures of individual differences in moral values, and it is negatively related to common beliefs that are not supported by scientific evidence (Study 5). We further demonstrate that the MRS predicts morally laden reactions, such as a desire for punishment, of people who rely on irrational (vs. rational) ways of forming and evaluating beliefs (Studies 6 and 7). Finally, we show that the MRS uniquely predicts motivation to contribute to a charity that works to prevent the spread of irrational beliefs (Study 8). We conclude that (1) there are stable individual differences in the extent to which people moralize a reliance on rationality in the formation and evaluation of beliefs, (2) that these individual differences do not reduce to the personal importance attached to rationality, and (3) that individual differences in moralized rationality have important motivational and interpersonal consequences.

Concepts: Belief, Ethics, Reliability, Religion, Virtue, Morality, Moral, Rationality

46

Though beliefs in Heaven and Hell are related, they are associated with different personality characteristics and social phenomena. Here we present three studies measuring Heaven and Hell beliefs' associations with and impact on subjective well-being. We find that a belief in Heaven is consistently associated with greater happiness and life satisfaction while a belief in Hell is associated with lower happiness and life satisfaction at the national (Study 1) and individual (Study 2) level. An experimental priming study (Study 3) suggests that these differences are mainly driven by the negative emotional impact of Hell beliefs. Possible cultural evolutionary explanations for the persistence of such a distressing religious concept are discussed.

Concepts: Life, Belief, Truth, Faith, English-language films, Religion, Christianity, Unbelieving

44

Polls examining public opinion on the subject of climate change are now commonplace, and one-off public opinion polls provide a snapshot of citizen’s opinions that can inform policy and communication strategies. However, cross-sectional polls do not track opinions over time, thus making it impossible to ascertain whether key climate change beliefs held by the same group of individuals are changing or not. Here we examine the extent to which individual’s level of agreement with two key beliefs (“climate change is real” and “climate change is caused by humans”) remain stable or increase/decrease over a six-year period in New Zealand using latent growth curve modelling (n = 10,436). Data were drawn from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a probabilistic national panel study, and indicated that levels of agreement to both beliefs have steadily increased over the 2009-2015 period. Given that climate change beliefs and concerns are key predictors of climate change action, our findings suggest that a combination of targeted endeavors, as well as serendipitous events, may successfully convey the emergency of the issue.

Concepts: Critical thinking, Belief, Truth, Epistemology, Opinion poll, Panel data, Opinion, Public opinion