Intelligence and Religiosity

candlesMiron Zuckerman, Jordan Silberman, and Judith A. Hall have recently published a provocative study in Personality and Social Psychology Review on the relationship between intelligence and religious commitment.  “The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations” argues that people who display high levels of analytic intelligence (which they define as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience”) tend to be resistant to religious commitment (they define religiosity as “the degree of involvement in some or all facets of religion … includ[ing] beliefs in supernatural agents, costly commitment to these agents [e.g., offering of property], using beliefs in those agents to lower existential anxieties such as anxiety over death, and communal rituals that validate and affirm religious beliefs”).  They conclude that “[a]nalytic thinking is controlled, systematic, rule-based, and relatively slow; intuitive thinking, in contrast, is reflexive, heuristic-based, spontaneous, mostly nonconscious, and relatively fast. We propose that more intelligent people tend to think analytically and that analytic thinking leads to lower religiosity” (17).  Not surprisingly, the college experience can often affect an intelligent  person’s religious commitment: “The separation from home and the exposure to a context that encourages questioning may allow intelligence to impact religious beliefs. Using analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking, more intelligent college students may be more likely to eschew religion.  If atheism is disapproved of at home, higher intelligence may facilitate resistance to conformity pressure.  These mechanisms might explain why the negative relation between intelligence and religiosity increases in college” (22).

A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity.  The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior.  For college students and the general population, means of weighted and unweighted correlations between intelligence and the strength of religious beliefs ranged from −.20 to −.25 (mean r = −.24).  Three possible interpretations were discussed.  First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma.  Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs.  Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.