Is It a Matter of Being Less Bright?

In this week’s spotlight, I’d like to address the notion that people who believe in spiritual matters, including the so-called paranormal, are less bright than those who deny such things. A study I read this past week in Frontiers of Psychology suggests that this is due to the fact that believers rely on intuition instead of reason.

Quoting for a moment, “Overall, the research found that atheists performed better overall than the religious participants even when demographic factors like age and education were taken into consideration. Agnostics mostly placed between atheists and believers on all tasks. While the strength of religious conviction correlated with poorer cognitive performance, the data did show that there were only a few small differences in working memory compared to tasks that required reasoning. As such, rather than having poor general intelligence, the researchers say that religious people’s lower IQ test results may be a result of bad performance on tasks only where intuition and logic come into conflict.”

Intuition vs Logic

Now the fact of the matter is, and based on several studies, not just the aforementioned, a prominent hypothesis has emerged which suggests that the religiosity effect is underpinned by cognitive-behavioral biases that cause poorer detection of situations in which intuition and logic are in conflict. Put simply, religious individuals are less likely to engage logical processes and be less efficient at detecting reasoning conflicts; therefore, they are more likely to take intuitive answers at face value and this impairs performance on intelligence tests. More broadly, from the perspective of this hypothesis, religious cognition is facilitated and hallmarked by intuitive decision making.

So, it’s not a matter of intelligence per se’. It’s rather a matter of how we use our dual processing powers of reason and intuition. There are times that intuition trumps reason but relying on it in favor of reason as a general operational modality is less advantageous overall.


An article appearing in Neuroscience News put it this way, “These findings provide evidence in support of the hypothesis that the religiosity effect relates to conflict [between reasoning and intuition] as opposed to reasoning ability or intelligence more generally…If, as this work suggests, religious belief predisposes people to rely more heavily on intuition in decision-making – and the stronger their belief, the more pronounced the impact – how much of a difference does this make to actual achievement in the real world? At the moment, there’s no data on this. But in theory, perhaps cognitive training could allow religious people to maintain their beliefs without over-relying on intuition when it conflicts with logic in day to day decision-making.”

I am reminded of a quote in the Bible that admonishes against the blind following the blind and the burden many clerics put on their followers that urges blind faith. Well, for me, don’t refrain from the mysteries—dig into them. Don’t blindly accept anything because some cleric insists that it is the only right way.

My thoughts anyway, what are yours?

Thanks for the read,


Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor
Provocative Enlightenment
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusion