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11-06-2018 | Original Article Open Access

Cognitive flexibility and religious disbelief

Tijdschrift:
Psychological Research
Auteurs:
Leor Zmigrod, P. Jason Rentfrow, Sharon Zmigrod, Trevor W. Robbins

Abstract

Cognitive flexibility is operationalized in the neuropsychological literature as the ability to shift between modes of thinking and adapt to novel or changing environments. Religious belief systems consist of strict rules and rituals that offer adherents certainty, consistency, and stability. Consequently, we hypothesized that religious adherence and practice of repetitive religious rituals may be related to the persistence versus flexibility of one’s cognition. The present study investigated the extent to which tendencies towards cognitive flexibility versus persistence are related to three facets of religious life: religious affiliation, religious practice, and religious upbringing. In a large sample (N = 744), we found that religious disbelief was related to cognitive flexibility across three independent behavioural measures: the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, Remote Associates Test, and Alternative Uses Test. Furthermore, lower frequency of religious service attendance was related to cognitive flexibility. When analysing participants’ religious upbringing in relation to their current religious affiliation, it was manifest that current affiliation was more influential than religious upbringing in all the measured facets of cognitive flexibility. The findings indicate that religious affiliation and engagement may shape and be shaped by cognitive control styles towards flexibility versus persistence, highlighting the tight links between flexibility of thought and religious ideologies.

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