Religious cognition and the brain

It’s fine to say we’ll study the relationship between the brain and people’s belief in God, but what is the nature of this belief in God whose relationship with the brain we are trying to study? That is the topic of the intriguing field of religious cognition.

I ran across the work of Nicholas Gibson, a PhD student at Cambridge. He notes that traditional survey-type research into people’s beliefs in God suffer from the problem that people give the answers they think they are supposed to, so instead he’ll borrow methods from cognitive psychology. One of his research projects included an experiment where subjects were timed in identifying whether certain words were most characteristic of God, mother, or self. He found that “religious” people answered “God” more quickly than others. His conclusion was that

…Evangelical Christians have a greater efficiency of processing with regard to God….a large, well-organised store of readily accessible information about God.

From a psychological perspective that might be an adequate conclusion, but our question is what is the neurological basis of this efficiency in processing, the well organized nature of the knowledge, and its ready accessiblity?

Leave a Reply