Differences in cognitive style, emotional processing, and ideology as crucial variables in understanding meaning making
Religion, Brain & Behavior
Neuroscientifically specifying the hypotheses of Hume, Marx, Freud, and others on the motivational sources of religion, the authors present an important case for religiosity as an anti-anxiety device to buffer against feelings of diminished certainty, order, control, and knowledge (stipulated components of meaning). The general evidence for this hypothesis is data showing a reduction in a previously wellcharacterized error-related neuronal response in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) among
... ortex (ACC) among religious persons. The authors' interpretation of these effects as a marker of religion's inherent anxiolytic influence is an intriguing one. In addition to the paper's focus on degrees of general reactivity to perceived threats to certainty, order, control, and knowledge, we feel it would also be very interesting to consider the ways in which this conflict/uncertainty is resolved across individuals. Specifically, we suggest that individuals who rely differentially on fast/automatic/intuitive versus slow/controlled/ reflective reasoning (Evans, 2003; Sloman, 1996) will arrive at different solutions when encountering the same questions of meaning making. Tasks like the Stroop (used by the authors) are very useful for examining one's reactivity at the onset of an error. Examining how people choose to resolve these uncertainties, however, is more challenging in tasks where two responses (correct and incorrect) are quickly available, and furthermore, the presence of incongruence is known from the outset. A task in which one response (the incorrect one) is more readily available to all participants while another response (the correct one) requires acknowledging that the fast/automatic/intuitive choice was wrong and reflecting further, we believe, can provide a more powerful measure of an individual's preference for different kinds of solutions. Using a task with exactly these properties (Cognitive Reflection Test; Frederick, 2005), Shenhav, Rand, and Greene (2011) recently showed that individual differences in the tendency to rely on intuition versus reflection influences belief in God. Intuitive style predicted stronger present belief in God and having strengthened belief in God since childhood (but not family religiosity during childhood), and these effects were not mediated by education level, income, political orientation, or IQ. Experimentally inducing a mindset that favors intuition over reflection increased immediate reports of belief in God. Given these results, we argue that people eventually become religious at least in part because when surrounded by questions of certainty, order, control, and knowledge, they are not as likely to rely as much on slow/controlled/reflective answers to these questions. These results can supplement the authors' data on religiosity and error onset (Stroop performance), as the Cognitive Reflection Test helps shed light on the more protracted process of human meaning making. In addition (as the authors speculate), religious individuals may also be more vulnerable to the anxieties that surround these complex questions of meaning making.