Miguel Fariasa, Anna-Kaisa Newheiserb, Guy Kahanec, and Zoe de Toledo
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 49, Issue 6, November 2013, Pages 1210–1213
Growing evidence indicates that religious belief helps individuals to cope with stress and anxiety. But is this effect specific to supernatural beliefs, or is it a more general function of belief — including belief in science? We developed a measure of belief in science and conducted two experiments in which we manipulated stress and existential anxiety. In Experiment 1, we assessed rowers about to compete (high-stress condition) and rowers at a training session (low-stress condition). As predicted, rowers in the high-stress group reported greater belief in science. In Experiment 2, participants primed with mortality (vs. participants in a control condition) reported greater belief in science. In both experiments, belief in science was negatively correlated with religiosity. Thus, some secular individuals may use science as a form of “faith” that helps them to deal with stressful and anxiety-provoking situations.
The suggested parallels between religious belief and belief in science may seem to be in tension with recent work emphasizing the intuitive character of religious belief. Tasks involving more analytic processing were shown to decrease religious belief (Gervais & Norenzayan, 2012), whereas the stimulation of a more intuitive mindset led to a greater belief in God (Shenhav, Rand, & Greene, 2012). Contrary to religion, scientific practice is defined by analytical thinking; rational enquiry and weighing of evidence are given precedence even when they conflict with intuition. But when it comes to believing, even if it is a belief in the scientific method as opposed to divine revelation, the underlying mechanism may be similar.
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