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Religiosity and intelligence

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Title: Religiosity and intelligence  
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Subject: Brights movement, Religiosity and education, Religiosity, Church attendance, Outline of human intelligence
Collection: Factors Related to Intelligence, Religion and Science
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Religiosity and intelligence

The debate on religiosity and intelligence explores the link between religiosity and issues related to intelligence and educational level (by country and on the individual level). Debates over religiosity may consider religious belief and/or practice, and may compare to atheism or to lack of religious affiliation or to lack of religious practice.

Most of the recent scientific studies have found a negative correlation between IQ and religiosity.[1][2] On the individual level, the education level is positively correlated with a belief in a god in African countries, and negatively correlated in Western countries.

Studies have shown a strong link between national average IQ and atheism in society. Research shows[3] of twelve countries with atheism over 40%, all except two are in a moderate average IQ range of 94 to 100, with one lower IQ than that range (Cuba) and one higher IQ than that range (Japan). Countries with an average IQ below 92 are overwhelmingly religious, with atheism under 10% (with the exception of Cuba), and often less than 2%. Two of the nine countries (22.2%) with a high average IQ above 100 are more than 25% atheist (Japan and South Korea). The highest IQ nation, Singapore, has an atheism rate of 12%, with a further 5% having no specific religious affiliation (but not self-identifying as atheist).

Although statistical studies show that the poorest countries tend to be more religious, experts suggest that the reason may be that religions play a more active social, moral and cultural role in those countries.[4][5] Religions in wealthy countries used to have a more specific moral and spiritual role.[6]


  • Summary of research and definitions of terms 1
    • Studies comparing religious belief and IQ 1.1
    • Study examining theistic belief and cognitive style 1.2
    • Studies examining religiosity and emotional intelligence 1.3
    • Studies exploring religiosity and educational attainment 1.4
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4

Summary of research and definitions of terms

Differences in educational attainment by religious groups in the U.S., 2001 data.

Intelligence is a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. There are several ways to more specifically define intelligence. In some cases, intelligence may include traits such as creativity, personality, character, knowledge, or wisdom. However, some psychologists prefer not to include these traits in the definition of intelligence.[7][8]

A widely researched index or classification of intelligence among scientists is Intelligence Quotient (IQ). IQ is a summary index, calculated by testing individuals' abilities in a variety of tasks and producing a composite score to represent overall ability, e.g., Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. It is used to predict educational outcomes and other variables of interest.

Others have attempted to measure intelligence indirectly by looking at individuals' or group's educational attainment, although this risks bias from other demographic factors, such as age, income, gender and cultural background, all of which can affect educational attainment.[7]

Dissatisfaction with traditional IQ tests has led to the development of alternative theories. In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences, which broadens the conventional definition of intelligence, since the cognitive or mental capacity of an individual logically includes all forms of mental qualities, not simply the ones most transparent to standardized IQ tests. The categories of intelligences Gardner proposes are logical, linguistic, spatial, musical, kinesthetic, naturalist, intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences.[9]

The term religiosity refers to degrees of religious behaviour, belief, or spirituality. The measurement of religiosity is hampered by the difficulties involved in defining what is meant by the term. Numerous studies have explored the different components of religiosity, with most finding some distinction between religious beliefs/ doctrine, religious practice, and spirituality. Studies can measure religious practice by counting attendance at religious services, religious beliefs/ doctrine by asking a few doctrinal questions, while spirituality can be measured by asking respondents about their sense of oneness with the divine or through detailed standardized measurements. When religiosity is measured, it is important to specify which aspects of religiosity are referred to.

Studies comparing religious belief and IQ

In a 2013 meta-analysis, led by Professor Miron Zuckerman, of 63 scientific studies about IQ and religiosity, a negative relation between intelligence and religiosity was found in 53, and a positive relation in the remaining ten. Controlling for other factors, they can only confidently show strong negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity among American Protestants.[1][2]

The relationship between countries' belief in a god and average Intelligence Quotient, measured by Lynn, Harvey & Nyborg.[3]

Nyborg also co-authored a study with Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, which compared religious belief and average national IQs in 137 countries.[3] The study analysed the issue from several viewpoints. Firstly, using data from a U.S. study of 6,825 adolescents, the authors found that atheists scored 6 IQ points higher than non-atheists.

Secondly, the authors investigated the link between religiosity and intelligence on a country level. Among the sample of 137 countries, only 23 (17%) had more than 20% of atheists, which constituted “virtually all... higher IQ countries.” The authors reported a correlation of 0.60 between atheism rates and level of intelligence, which was determined to be “highly statistically significant”.[3] Only one country with an average IQ above 100 had more than a third of the population atheist (Japan). Of the twelve countries with atheism over 40%, all except two are in the average IQ range of 94 to 100, with only one higher than that range (Japan) and one lower (Cuba).

Professor Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society from London's Birkbeck College, expressed concern that the study failed to take into account a complex range of social, economic and historical factors, each of which has been shown to interact with religion and IQ in different ways.[10] Gallup surveys, for example, have found that the world's poorest countries are consistently the most religious, perhaps because religion plays a more functional role (helping people cope) in poorer nations.[5]

Commenting on some of the above studies in The Daily Telegraph, Lynn said "Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God."[10] A study published in Social Psychology Quarterly in March 2010[11] also stated that "atheism ...correlate[s] with higher intelligence".[12]

...belief in God may be intuitive for reasons related to more general features of human cognition that give rise to tendencies toward dualism (Bering, 2006, 2011), anthropomorphism (Epley,Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2007; Waytz et al., 2010), and promiscuous teleology (Kelemen & Rosset, 2009)... What’s more, the belief in God may give rise to a feedback cycle whereby satisfying explanatory appeals to God reinforce the intuitive cognitive style that originally favored the belief in God.

- Amitai Shenhav, David G. Rand, and Joshua D. Greene[13]

Even at the scale of the individual, IQ may not directly cause more disbelief in gods. Dr David Hardman of London Metropolitan University says: "It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief." He adds that other studies do nevertheless correlate IQ with being willing or able to question beliefs.[10]

Researcher Gregory S. Paul's findings suggest that economic development has a closer relationship with religiosity.[14] He argues that once any "nation's population becomes prosperous and secure, for example through economic security and universal health care, much of the population loses interest in seeking the aid and protection of supernatural entities." Other studies have shown that increased wealth is correlated with a decline in religious beliefs.[15][16] Indeed, the majority of the nations that showed a strong relationship between low religiosity and high IQ in the 2008 study were developed nations.[3]

Study examining theistic belief and cognitive style

The idea that analytical thinking makes one less likely to be religious is an idea supported by other early studies on this issue,[17] including a report from Harvard University.[13] First of all, the Harvard researchers found evidence suggesting that all religious beliefs become more confident when participants are thinking intuitively (atheist and theists each become more convinced). Thus reflective thinking generally tends to create more qualified, doubted belief.

Furthermore, the Harvard study found that participants who tended to think more reflectively were less likely to believe in a god.[13] Reflective thinking was further correlated with greater changes in beliefs since childhood: these changes were towards atheism for the most reflective participants, and towards greater belief in a god for the most intuitive thinkers. The study controlled for personality differences and cognitive ability, suggesting the differences were due to thinking styles - not simply IQ or raw cognitive ability.[13] An experiment in the study found that participants moved towards greater belief in a god, after writing essays about how intuition yielded a right answer or reflection yielded a wrong answer (and conversely, towards atheism if primed to think about either a failure of intuition or success of reflection). The authors say it is all evidence that a relevant factor in religious belief is thinking style.[13] The authors add that, even if intuitive thinking tends to increase belief in a god, "it does not follow that reliance on intuition is always irrational or unjustified."[13]

Studies examining religiosity and emotional intelligence

A small 2004 study by Ellen Paek examined the extent to which religiosity (in which only Christians were surveyed), operationalized as religious orientation and religious behaviour, is related to the controversial[18][19][20] idea of emotional intelligence (EI). The study examined the extent to which religious orientation and behavior were related to self-reported (EI) in 148 church attending adult Christians.[21] (non-religious individuals were not part of the study). The study found that the individuals' self-reported religious orientation was positively correlated with their perceiving themselves to have greater EI. While the number of religious group activities was positively associated with perceived EI, number of years of church attendance was unrelated. Significant positive correlations were also found between level of religious commitment and perceived EI. Thus, the Christian volunteers were more likely to consider themselves emotionally intelligent if they spent more time in group activities and had more commitment to their beliefs.

Tischler, Biberman and McKeage warn that there is still ambiguity in the above concepts. In their 2002 article, entitled “Linking emotional intelligence, spirituality and workplace performance: Definitions, models and ideas for research”, they reviewed literature on both EI and various aspect of spirituality. They found that both EI and spirituality appear to lead to similar attitudes, behaviors and skills, and that there often seems to be confusion, intersection and linking between the two constructs.[22]

Studies exploring religiosity and educational attainment

The relationship between the level of religiosity and the level of education has been a philosophical, as well as a scientific and political concern since the second half of the 20th century.

The parameters in this field are slightly different compared to those brought forward above: if the "level of religiosity" remains a concept which is difficult to determine scientifically, on the contrary, the "level of education" is, indeed, easy to compile, official data on this topic being publicly accessible to anyone in most countries.

Different studies available show contrasting conclusions. An analysis of World Values Survey data showed that in most countries, there is no significant relationship between education and religious attendance, with some differences between "western" countries and former socialist countries, which they attribute to historical/ political/ economic factors (not intelligence).[23] Other studies have noted a positive relationship.[24][25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Zuckerman, Miron; Silberman, Jordan; Hall, Judith A. (2013). "The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations".  
  2. ^ a b Rathi, Akshat (11 August 2013). "New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith".  
  3. ^ a b c d e  
  4. ^ Lindsay, Jay (20 August 2012). "Religion And Giving: More Religious States Give More To Charity".  
  5. ^ a b Crabtree, Steve; Pelham, Brett (6 March 2009). "Religion Provides Emotional Boost to World’s Poor". Gallup Poll. 
  6. ^ Sohn, Emily. "Why Are Religious People Happier?".  
  7. ^ a b Neisser, U.; Boodoo, G.; Bouchard Jr, T.J.; Boykin, A.W.; Brody, N.; Ceci, S.J.; Halpern, D.F.; Loehlin, J.C.; Perloff, R.; Sternberg, R.J. (1998). "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns". Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry and Child Development 1997.  
  8. ^ Perloff, R.; Sternberg, R.J.; Urbina, S. (1996). "Intelligence: knowns and unknowns". American Psychologist 51: 77–101.  
  9. ^ Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences.  
  10. ^ a b c Graeme, Paton (11 June 2008). "'"Intelligent people 'less likely to believe in God.  
  11. ^ Kanazawa, S. (2010). "Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent". Social Psychology Quarterly 73 (1): 33–57.  
  12. ^ Science News (24 February 2010). "Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f Shenhav, Amitai; Rand, David G.; Greene, Joshua D. (2011). "Divine Intuition: Cognitive Style Influences Belief in God, by Amitai Shenhav, David G. Rand, and Joshua D. Greene at Harvard University" (PDF). 
  14. ^ Paul, G.S. (2009) "The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions". Evolutionary Psychology 7 (3) [2]
  15. ^ "Religion & Wealth: Less Religious Countries are More Wealthy". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  16. ^ Survey Reports. "World Publics Welcome Global Trade — But Not Immigration | Pew Global Attitudes Project". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  17. ^ "Analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, study shows".  
  18. ^  
  19. ^ Locke, E.A. (2005). "Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept". Journal of Organizational Behavior 26 (4): 425–431.  
  20. ^ Mattiuzzi, Paul G. "Emotional Intelligence? I'm not feeling it.". 
  21. ^ Paek, Ellen (2006). "Religiosity and perceived emotional intelligence among Christians". Personality and Individual Differences (International Society for the Study of Individual Differences) 41 (3): 479–490.  
  22. ^ Tischler, L; Biberman, J.; McKeage, R. (2002). "Linking emotional intelligence, spirituality and workplace performance: Definitions, models and ideas for research". Journal of Managerial Psychology (Emerald Group Publishing Limited) 17 (3): 203–218.  
  23. ^ Sacerdote, Bruce; Glaeser, Edward L. "Education and Religion" (PDF). Harvard Institute of Economic Research. p. 29. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  24. ^ Norris, Pippa; Ronald Inglehart (2011). Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 267–268.  
  25. ^ "Education and occupation profile of attenders".  

Further reading

  • Shermer, M. (2000) How we believe. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 0-8050-7479-1
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