Study attempts to explain how supernatural and religious beliefs may occur as a result of anxiety

In a study featured in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, researchers at the University of Otago attempt to explain why certain people preoccupy themselves with supernational and religious beliefs and others do not.

For the study, 972 participants were recruited, with an emphasis on anxiety as a potential causal factor for religious beliefs.

“In two studies, we show that anxiety intensifies a known cognitive bias to recall supernatural agents via preferential processing of the threatening characteristics of these agents,” according to the study.

“Across the two studies, participants exposed to an anxiety manipulation at encoding (but not at retrieval) exhibited a stronger recall bias for supernatural agents than controls, regardless of how anxiety was elicited and regardless of participants’ religiosity.”

People who suffer from anxiety may be at a higher likelihood of recalling and acquiring mental representations of perceived supernatural phenomenon, potentially raising the risk of more preoccupation with religious beliefs.

“This work therefore lends support and detail to the motivational account, addresses the puzzle of why some malevolent gods attract believers, and, by illustrating the importance of anxiety in recall for supernatural agents, argues for the construction of cognitive-motivational models of religious belief,” researchers commented in their journal report.

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