Why Would the Tendency to Use Supernatural Explanations Increase With Age?

Both scientific and supernatural explanations frequently operate within the same mind to explain the very same event or phenomenon. Contrary to traditional psychological accounts, our research has demonstrated that supernatural explanations do not always appear early in development; nor are they primitive or immature ways of thinking that are suppressed over the course of development. Instead, like scientific explanations, they are constructed and elaborated through socialization and cultural learning and may be founded on earlier intuitive explanations.

For many people, supernatural explanations provide different kinds of information than scientific explanations. For life’s existentially arousing questions, we want explanations for why we are here, what happens when we die, and why bad things happen. With age and experience, many people increasingly integrate scientific and supernatural explanations to provide personal answers to these questions of fundamental concern to humans.

Cristine Legare is a professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin.

Category: Q&A


4 Responses

  1. A very helpful study in that it addresses the types of thinking–and not just the same old content disagreements–involved in religion and science. It seems to me that in older people, while they may outgrow more naive impressions of the supernatural, they retain a sense of the supernatural because spiritual concerns surrounding purpose and death become more pressing. As a result they continue to “reason about the supernatural,” as the article puts it, as they seek find firmer answers to more urgent questions. What interests me is doing the reverse–spiritualizing portions of our knowledge about nature and evolution. An example would be seeing our lives in the context of the continuity of 3 and 1/2 billion years of life–a vision of “ancestry” without supernaturalism or romanticization that I find very moving. Perhaps non-theists will gradually become more receptive to the uses of biological knowledge for responses to spiritual needs. I pursue these possibilities in my blog at livingasmeaning.com. Brock Haussamen

  2. There are many reasons for tendency to use supernatural explanations.First science helpless to give answer to all questions which are haunting to mankind.[2] We are all till raised in religious atmosphere homes.There are religious culture ritual we cannot avoided.How can we erases these impact which are deeply rooted in our unconscious mind.?

  3. Rosemary Lyndall Wemm says:

    This research appears to have been conducted on people who have spent all or most of their lives living in a community that is strongly infused with conservative Christian beliefs and a nation that deeply values religious views, fruently giving them a higher value than hard won scientific facts. That environment must be reflected in the research results.

    It would be much more interesting to have a comparative view about how religious views change in communities and nations that do not put religious beliefs on a pedestal.

  4. Rosemary Lyndall Wemm says:

    Further investigation provides evidence that the bulk of the research was conducted on people from countries with very low scores on international assessments of science, mathematics and critical thinking skills and educational levels: specially, South Africa (the bulk of the research), and the U.S.A. The researchers themselves are immersed in a culture that is also, by international Western standards, extremely religious.
    The conclusions should be treated with considerable suspicion until they are replicated in other countries with a different cultural and religious profile.

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