Do you hear a distant melody that nobody else can hear? Intuition may lead people toward a belief in the divine and help explain why some people have more faith in God than others (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to these shows).

In a series of studies, researchers found that people with a more intuitive thinking style tend to have stronger beliefs in God than those with a more reflective style. Intuitive thinking means going with one’s first instinct and reaching decisions quickly based on automatic cognitive processes. Reflective thinking involves the questioning of first instinct and consideration of other possibilities, thus allowing for counterintuitive decisions.

In the first part of the study, almost 900 US adults, with an average age of 33 and consisting of 64% women, completed online surveys about their belief in God before taking a cognitive reflection test which had 3 math problems with incorrect answers that seemed intuitive. For example, one question stated: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” The automatic or intuitive answer is 10 cents, but the correct answer is 5 cents. Participants who had more incorrect answers showed a greater reliance on intuition than reflection in their thinking style.

Participants who gave intuitive answers to all three problems were almost twice as likely to report they were convinced of God’s existence as those who answered all of the questions correctly. Researcher Amitai Shenhav says, "We wanted to explain variations in belief in God in terms of more basic cognitive processes. Some say we believe in God because our intuitions about how and why things happen lead us to see a divine purpose behind ordinary events that don’t have obvious human causes. This led us to ask whether the strength of an individual’s beliefs is influenced by how much they trust their natural intuitions versus stopping to reflect on those first instincts."

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