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Does reliance on heuristic information processing predict religiosity? Yes, if one is a liberal, but not so much if one is a conservative . . . 

A colleague and I were talking about the relationship between religiosity, conservativism, and scores on the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), and poking around in our data as we did so, and something kind of interesting popped out.

It’s generally accepted that religiosity is associated with greater reliance on heuristic (System 1) as opposed to conscious, effortful (System 2) information processing (Gervais & Norenzyan 2012; Pennycook et al. 2012; Shenhav, Rand & Greene 2012).

But it turns out that that effect is conditional, at least to a fairly significant extent, on political outlooks!

That is, there is a strong negative association with the disposition to use conscious, effortful information processing—as measured by the CRT—and religiosity in liberals.

But the story is different for conservatives. For them, there isn’t much of a relationship at all between the disposition to use System 2 vs. System 1 information processing and religiosity; the most reflective—the ones who score highest on CRT—are about as committed to religion as those who are the most disposed to rely heuristic information processing.

Jeez, what do the 14 billion readers of this blog make of this??


click for your raw data, plus regression ouput--essential elements of a balanced statistical diet!1. As per usual, I measured political outlooks with a standardized scale comprising the (standardized) sums of a 5-point liberal-conservative ideology item and a 7-point partisan identification item (alpha = 0.78); and “religiosity" with standardized scale comprising the (standardized) sum of a 4-point importance of religion item, a 6-point frequency of church attendance item, & a 7-point frequency of prayer item (alpha = 0.88).

2. CRT had a correlation of r = 0.00 with Left_right, which is consistent with what studies using nationally representative samples tend to find (Kahan 2013; Baron 2015).



Baron, J. Supplement to Deppe et al. (2015). Judgment and Decision Making 10, 2 (2015).

Gervais, W.M., Shariff, A.F. & Norenzayan, A. Do you believe in atheists? Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice. Journal of personality and social psychology 101, 1189 (2011).

Kahan, D.M. Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making 8, 407-424 (2013).

Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J.A., Seli, P., Koehler, D.J. & Fugelsang, J.A. Analytic cognitive style predicts religious and paranormal belief. Cognition 123, 335-346 (2012). 

Shenhav, A., Rand, D.G. & Greene, J.D. Divine intuition: cognitive style influences belief in God. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 141, 423 (2012).


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Reader Comments (10)

Hi Dan,

My guesss is that CRT predicts religious *belief* among conservatives. The association with religious *engagement* (as you've measured here) is much smaller, as illustrated in our original article. Indeed, for a social conservative it might make good sense to engage in the religious (and largely conservative) community, even if one does not strongly believe in God, angels, heaven, hell, etc.

Have you looked into the possibility that CRT is correlated with conservatism among those who are low in religiosity?

Thanks again for the interesting work.


September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook



I likely don't have what you would regard as a "belief" measure in this or other comparable data sets. Closest would be religious self-identification, in which options "none," "atheist," & "agonistic" appear. Do you doubt that self-reported religious behavior would cohere w/ measures of "belief," say, in God, divine agency in creationof life, etc?

On 2d point, you are asking whether CRT & political outlooks interact in predicting religiosity as I'm measuring it--right? If so, what would you predict on that & why? Curious!

September 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan and Gordon: I think that the central issue needing further discussion in your analyses above is that belief and religiosity are multifaceted.

First, I believe that there is a large group of people who do not put much time for outwardly of religious belief into their busy lives. In my opinion, how such people answered questions about their personal belief system would be very dependent on the questions asked and who was doing the asking. Some non believers, such as the "new atheists" are as strident in espousing their belief system as any evangelical Christian. Still others do not see spirituality as a matter of much importance.

Some belief systems are highly analytical, in an academic sense, even if the evidence they are based on is textual and not that of science based observations of the natural world. Orthodox Jewish Talmudic scholars for example, or the sort of Christian Biblical studies that this software company is appealing to:

Some belief systems are highly emotional and experiential. A Pentecostal, come to Jesus, born again baptism of the Holy Spirit, or speaking in tongues is free of the need for extensive study. Another example might be the higher cosmic consciousness of some New Age believers. Or the vision seeking of some Native American groups.

Some believe systems have a strong grounding in observational environmental science but differ from traditional Christian European originating believers in the manner in which they define man's role to nature. The value of ecological knowledge is sustainability of known systems, not "Scientific Progress". Coast Salish might describe them selves as "one with salmon". The theme of the Scared Stone Camp (protesting the Energy Access pipeline in North Dakota) is "Water is Life".

In my opinion, differences in religious expression confound political usages of "liberal" and "conservative" as used above.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis


Religious belief certainly correlates very strongly with practice/behavior, but the correlation isn't perfect and there is room for certain divergences. I think this might be one of those cases.

My (partially formed) thought on the second point is that CRT might associate with cohesion among worldviews and cultural behaviors. Relatively non-religious people who are nonetheless socially conservative (or, at least, less sociallylliberal) might be lower in CRT. By the same token, relatively religious people who are socially liberal might also be lower in CRT. Just a thought!

September 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook


I think I accept what you are saying. But from where I stand, the idea that CRT & religiosity will interact in predicting conservativism complicates theories that see either religiosity or conservativism as being associated with overreliance on heuristic processing. If high conservative ideology "recognize" that religious outlooks fit their cultural style more readily when they are high in CRT, or equivalently high CRT conservatives recognize that religiosity is part of theirs, that suggests that people who are more reflective recognize conservatism &/or religiosity cohere w/ their latent cutlural identity conditional on being more disposed to use conscious, effortful processing. I do indeed think that is right.

September 11, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


everything is multi-faceted--more multi-faceted than can be captured by models used to empirically test conjectures of this sort. But that doesn't mean the models can't be close enough to right to deepen insight. Or alternatively that we can't learn from whatever the less complex construct called "religiosity" or "culture" or "ideology" is that gets used in studies like this.

If I can explain, predict, & prescribe, I'm not much bothered that I've simplified. If I have a rich construct or measure but can't operationalize it in a manner that doesn't conduce to explanation, prediction & prescription -- I regard that as failure.

September 11, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

As always when I see partisan deviation, the most salient question to me is, which side is driving it? That is to say, who's at fault?

Test: look also at the double plot of Religiosity vs. SCS (curiosity). SCS is now known to be depolarizing. If high-curiousness is associated in both subpopulations with less religiosity, then it's "conservative" (right-wing radical, really) devotion to religious identity that's driving the polarization, but if high-curiousness is associated in both subpopulations with equal or greater religiosity, then it's "liberal" (left-wing authoritarian, really) anti-religion that's driving it.

September 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon


As it turns out, the relationships between religioisity & SCS & political orientation & SCS has been featured previously. Seems pretty modest: take a look."

But on your test, we'd have to look at what-- how science curiosity is related to religiosity conditional on political outlooks?

September 12, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Yes, I think you've stated my hypothesis correctly. I'm expecting to see that highly curious people on both sides will not be differently religious, conditional on political outlook, because curiosity seems to be convergence-attracting despite political polarization. If so, then I feel justified to blame whichever side behaves not like the more curious people for the polarization we see in the CRT results.

If, on the other hand, increasing curiosity still leads to divergence in religiosity conditional on political outlook, then we're back to square one and I have to admit I was wrong. I would be likewise wrong, or not better informed by this test, if increasing curiosity has little effect on religiosity, yet different political outlooks still create significantly different levels of religiosity; i.e., SCS slope not significant, intercepts different anyway. (But I think this unlikely, given the modest aggregate spreads we've seen already.)

Does this inquiry seem fair and well-formed? Did you look at that already and I missed it?

September 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@Dypoon-- haven't already! Will check it out

September 14, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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