Amitai Shenhav, a doctoral student of Harvard University in Boston, explained intuitive thinking means going with one's first instinct and reaching decisions quickly based on automatic cognitive processes, while reflective thinking involves the questioning of first instinct and consideration of other possibilities -- allowing for counterintuitive decisions.
"We wanted to explain variations in belief in God in terms of more basic cognitive processes," Shenhav said in a statement. "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."
Shenhav, along with David Rand, a postdoctoral fellow and Joshua Greene, an associate professor, said the study involved 882 U.S. adults, with a mean age of 33 -- 64 percent of them women. They completed online surveys about their belief in God before taking a cognitive reflection test.
The test had three math problems with incorrect answers that seemed intuitive. Participants who had more incorrect answers showed a greater reliance on intuition than reflection in their thinking style, the researchers said.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, found those who gave intuitive answers to all three problems were 1.5 times as likely to report they were convinced of God's existence as those who answered all of the questions correctly -- regardless of demographic factors, political beliefs, education, income or religious upbringing.