Pattern recognition influences religious belief, according to new study
Christians and Muslims that pick out unconscious patterns are more likely to believe in a god.
- Georgetown researchers found strong implicit pattern learning implies belief in a god.
- The study included American Christians and Afghani Muslims, representing two different religious and cultural backgrounds.
- Further research on polytheistic religious believers could provide insights into a cognitive basis of religion.
In Genesis 1:27, one of the writers of the Bible claims that "God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them." The reverse is most likely true: man created a god with his attributes. Physical features are not the only qualities gods share with humans. Pattern recognition appears to be another.
A god that can make sense out of patterns in nature is certainly a powerful being. According to a new study from Georgetown University, it appears that humans endowed with this skill are more likely to believe in a god.
The team, led by Adam Green, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, writes that religious variability is common. Universal themes might be extracted from disparate regions, but each of the hundreds of religious practices that came be known broadly as Hinduism espouse different ideas.
The same holds true for every religion: Buddhism has a "great vehicle" and a lesser one; Shia practices are wildly different than Sufis; Japanese Buddhists practice quite different rituals than California Buddhists; what's divine in one Christian sect is blasphemy in another. While the more fervent religious believe their views to be correct, open-minded believers are likely to see the possibility of communication.
To combat the problem of relativism, Green's team chose volunteers from American Christians and Afghani Muslims, two varied religious and cultural samples. They wanted to know if implicit pattern learning—"perceptual mechanisms evolved for predictive processing of environmental information"—is a predictor of belief in a god.
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The answer, according to their research, is yes. As Green notes,
"This is not a study about whether God exists, this is a study about why and how brains come to believe in gods. Our hypothesis is that people whose brains are good at subconsciously discerning patterns in their environment may ascribe those patterns to the hand of a higher power."
Consciousness only provides a sliver of data that our brains pay attention to. Bottom-up processes operate below the conscious threshold, such as the biological operations that maintain our body's homeostasis. Threat detection and other forms of perception are also processed from the bottom-up, although, as the authors write, top-down processing is not an entirely separate domain. The two inform one another.
Intuition is another example of bottom-up processing that appears in consciousness. We pick up signals from our environment and process it unconsciously all the time.
"Because individuals are not aware of such bottom-up influences, intuitions drawn from unconscious processing may instead be consciously interpreted via explicit belief narratives that provide a rationalized context for beliefs and behaviors."
A general view of the beach and a surfer as photographed on March 20, 2014 in Marina del Rey, California.
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Face processing, implicit racial bias, and pathogen avoidance provide further context. In fact, cleansing rituals likely evolved from an unconscious fear of disease. Our ancestors applied a spiritual dimension to their bathing rituals to make sense out of unconscious drives.
For this study, 199 (mostly) Christian volunteers in Washington, D.C. and 149 Muslims in Kabul watched a sequence of dots on a computer screen. They were tasked to press a corresponding button every time a dot appeared. Participants with strong implicit learning abilities began to unconsciously recognize patterns in the appearance of the dots, preemptively hitting the corresponding button before they appeared. None of the volunteers claimed to have seen a pattern, suggesting their guesses were unconscious.
The team observed a link between the strongest implicit learners and religious belief. Recognizing patterns before they appear is correlated with belief in a god. The team was surprised to discover such a strong correlation between two disparate religious and cultural groups, suggesting the potential of a universal theme. As Green notes,
"A brain that is more predisposed to implicit pattern learning may be more inclined to believe in a god no matter where in the world that brain happens to find itself, or in which religious context."
An interesting next step could be studying polytheistic groups, where pattern recognition is likely stronger. It's one thing to give credit to one god for everything, but quite another to assign a variety of divine figures for the relationships between natural phenomena.
The authors conclude that they cannot write off top-down processing as part of religious belief. Indeed, faith likes has multivariate influences. Still, this research details another cognitive basis of belief, highlighting common ground we all share regardless of the form of our deities.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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