Belief in God or other higher powers may be crucially linked to humans' cognitive ability to infer other peoples' mental states, called "theory of mind" or "mentalizing," according to research published May 30 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.
The researchers, led by Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia, found that deficits in mentalizing, as associated with the autism spectrum, were related to decreased belief in God. Norenzayan explains, "Religious believers intuitively think of their deities as personified beings with mental states who anticipate and respond to human needs and actions. Therefore, mentalizing deficits would be expected to make religious belief less intuitive." However, the researchers caution that there is a combination of reasons, some of them psychological, others historical and cultural, why some people believe more than others; mentalizing is only one contributing factor among many.
Additionally, the researchers explored the gender gap in religious belief. According to Will Gervais, who co-led the investigation, "Mentalizing deficits are known to be more common in men than women, and in our research this explained the well-known finding that men tend to be less religious than women".
Citation: Norenzayan A, Gervais WM, Trzesniewski KH (2012) Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36880. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036880
Financial Disclosure: The authors acknowledge support by SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) grants to Norenzayan (410-2010-0297) and Trzesniewski (410-2009-1449), and an APA (American Psychological Association) Division 36 research seed grant to Gervais. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
PLEASE LINK TO THE SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (URL goes live after the embargo ends):
Disclaimer: This press release refers to upcoming articles in PLoS ONE. The releases have been provided by the article authors and/or journal staff. Any opinions expressed in these are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.
About PLoS ONE
PLoS ONE is the first journal of primary research from all areas of science to employ a combination of peer review and post-publication rating and commenting, to maximize the impact of every report it publishes. PLoS ONE is published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the open-access publisher whose goal is to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource.
All works published in PLoS ONE are Open Access. Everything is immediately available—to read, download, redistribute, include in databases and otherwise use—without cost to anyone, anywhere, subject only to the condition that the original authors and source are properly attributed. For more information about PLoS ONE relevant to journalists, bloggers and press officers, including details of our press release process and our embargo policy, see the everyONE blog at http://everyone.plos.org/media.