Belief, Emotion and Reason

Scientists think people have two distinct brain networks – one for empathy and one for analytic thinking, and that these two networks are at odds with each other. Healthy people’s thought processes are able to switch between the two and use the appropriate network depending on the issue they are considering

Atheists hold negative views about religion because they have analytical brains. Religious people’s views on the other hand are dominated by emotion. Emotional involvement in an idea – no matter how illogical or erroneous – makes them cling to their views. Emotional resonance helps religious people to feel more certain about their faith – even when contrary evidence is staring them in the face.

This kind of empathy can be dangerous. For instance, terrorists believe they are highly moral because they believe they are righting centuries-old wrongs to protect something sacred. The more moral correctness they see in something, the more it confirms their thinking. Corbyn supporters too are influenced by their emotions rather than political knowledge, which is the reason the Comrades are targeting the youth – easy to excite and bamboozle with false promises of an equally false utopian future and thus easy to manipulate.

In someone who is militantly religious – or political – the empathetic network dominates, while in the non-religious dogmatist’s mind the analytical network rules. Appealing to a militant religious or political person’s sense of moral concern and an anti-religious or political person’s unemotional logic may increase the chance they will listen to your point of view.

Researchers studied more than 900 people. 209 participants identified as Christian, nine were Jewish, five Buddhist, four Hindu, one Muslim and 24 from other religions. 153 participants were non-religious. Each completed tests assessing dogmatism, empathetic concern and aspects of analytical reasoning.

They discovered some similarities between strongly religious and non-religious people, finding that in both groups, the most dogmatic were less adept at analytical thinking and less likely to look at issues from other people’s perspectives.

The results showed that on the whole, religious participants had a higher level of dogmatism, empathetic concern and pro-social intentions, while the non-religious performed better on tests of analytic reasoning.

Although the study looked at the differences between the worldview of people who are religious and non-religious dogmatists, it could apply to any strongly held core belief.

Beliefs dictate behaviour and can apply to any mind-set such as eating habits – to be vegan, vegetarian or omnivore – or to political opinions and beliefs about race and religion. False beliefs are at the root cause of most fears and phobias and celebrity worship.

Conversely, militant atheists cannot see positives in religion because they can only see that religion contradicts their sensible, analytic and scientific approach to life.

The study might explain why extreme perspectives on religion, politics and culture are becoming more prevalent in society and why individuals cling to those beliefs, especially when they seem at odds with analytic reasoning.

Based on Research from Case Western Reserve University.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2019. All rights reserved.

About Andrew Newton

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Andrew Newton has an international reputation as a leading authority on hypnosis. 

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