Nonreligious and Secular Research Roundup

From Tom Rees of Epiphenom (live blogging from the Non-Religion and Secularity Research Network conference):

Kirsten Barnes, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, presented her research into “hyperactive agency detection.” This involved showing a small group of atheists and Christians images of random noise and asking if they see any patterns (faces in the clouds).
There was no difference between the groups. This is surprising because this sort of agency detection is supposed to be a trigger for religion.
The atheists were younger, more paranoid, more psychotic, and more neurotic. Strangely, however, there was no correlation between paranoid ideation and seeing images. Perhaps the groups were too small.

• Interesting presentation from Miguel Farias, a psychologist at the University of Oxford. He’s found that, when relating life stories, atheists are more likely to report personal relationships as the most important events in their lives. They have more perceived control over their lives and generally a more hedonistic attitude. Interestingly, they are also more likely to believe that the fantasies described in The Da Vinci Code are true!

Ryan Cragun from Florida is presenting on prejudice in the United States. First some demographics. The nonreligious are not different from the religious on education or marital status (after adjusting for age). They do tend to earn slightly more, though.
He’s looked at people who are self-declared atheists rather than nonreligious. It turns out that atheists face twice the level of discrimination as the nonreligious. This is particularly acute in the social setting. Cragun thinks this is because atheists are “out and proud”—i.e., identify as members of a minority and proud of it. Others have shown that these are the people who face the greatest prejudice (because they are perceived by the majority as a threat).
In questions, it’s been suggested that the people who state their religion as “atheist” may be more combative.

Jon Lanman has presented a theory that links cognitive science to societal-level differences in religiosity. The key ingredient is that threat drives people to increase their religious actions (devotions, attendance). The other ingredient is what’s called “credibility enhancing displays.” This is the idea that in order to believe what people tell us, we need to see them act according to their beliefs—they need to walk the talk.
In countries with low religiosity, such as Sweden, what happened was that threat was reduced (limited ethnic diversity and high social welfare). People didn’t stop believing, but they did stop acting on their beliefs. As a result, their children didn’t really believe them when they talked about god. Hence, religion did not get passed on.

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