What Makes You So Sure? Dogmatism, Fundamentalism, Analytic Thinking, Perspective Taking and Moral Concern in the Religious and Nonreligious

Abstract

Better understanding the psychological factors related to certainty in one’s beliefs (i.e., dogmatism) has important consequences for both individuals and social groups. Generally, beliefs can find support from at least two different routes of information processing: social/moral considerations or analytic/empirical reasoning. Here, we investigate how these two psychological constructs relate to dogmatism in two groups of individuals who preferentially draw on the former or latter sort of information when forming beliefs about the world—religious and nonreligious individuals. Across two studies and their pooled analysis, we provide evidence that although dogmatism is negatively related to analytic reasoning in both groups of individuals, it shares a divergent relationship with measures of moral concern depending on whether one identifies as religious or not. Study 1 showed that increasing levels of dogmatism were positively related to prosocial intentions among the religious and negatively related to empathic concern among the nonreligious. Study 2 replicated and extended these results by showing that perspective taking is negatively related to dogmatism in both groups, an effect which is particularly robust among the nonreligious. Study 2 also showed that religious fundamentalism was positively related to measures of moral concern among the religious. Because the current studies used a content-neutral measure to assess dogmatic certainty in one’s beliefs, they have the potential to inform practices for most effectively communicating with and persuading religious and nonreligious individuals to change maladaptive behavior, even when the mode of discourse is unrelated to religious belief.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Our rationale for investigating the relationship these two rather broad yet distinct psychological constructs share with (religious) belief was first explained in Jack et al. (2016). Empirical and theoretical support is discussed in this paper, in the section titled ‘Neuroscience reveals a tension between different types of thinking related to different belief considerations.’ The interested reader is directed to Friedman & Jack (accepted), where we advance a through theoretical and empirical account of the relationship between (brain areas underlying) aspects of analytic reasoning, aspects of moral concern and aspects of a more emotionally distanced sort of social cognition (e.g., theory of mind).

  2. 2.

    The distinction between nonsocial-working memory (e.g., manipulating numbers or alphabetizing names in one’s own mind) and social-working memory (e.g., manipulating mental states and personality traits in one’s own mind) is supported by work in neuroscience demonstrating that the former sorts of tasks activate TPN regions, while the latter sorts of tasks activate DMN regions (Meyer et al. 2015). Moreover, DMN activation during social-working memory tasks is related to behavioral performance on social tasks, such as perspective taking, while TPN activation during either sort of working memory task is unrelated (Meyer et al. 2015). Hence, there are clear neurological and functional (e.g., behavioral) dissociations between social and nonsocial-working memory systems.

  3. 3.

    The felt or experienced tension between competing inputs and beliefs (as well as methods for ameliorating such tension) is well documented by research on cognitive dissonance (Festinger 1962; Tavris and Aronson, 2008). We are not claiming that all sorts of cognitive dissonance can be traced to the relationship between these two networks. However, we refer the interested reader to other work that provides theoretical and empirical support for the notion that the tension between these two neural networks underlies many important—and experientially real—tensions pertaining to competing philosophical beliefs and their associated worldviews (Friedman and Jack accepted, 2012, Jack 2013; Robbins and Jack 2006).

  4. 4.

    While the three-item religiosity scale captures religious affiliation, as well as belief in certain core religious and supernatural concepts, we use the terms ‘religious’ and ‘nonreligious’ for ease of exposition and readership. This terminology is also used here because participants were divided into ‘religious’ or ‘nonreligious’ groups based on their answer to the single item asking which religious system they belong to (the average score from all three items is used in subsequent analyses). However, it is worth mentioning that this single-item measure likely addresses aspects of religiosity more broadly, beyond mere affiliation. For instance, those who identify with a religious affiliation likely adopt (some of) the relevant beliefs and practices, while the opposite would be true for those who are not affiliated (those who chose ‘not religious’). We fully acknowledge the inherent limitations with this approach to studying something as complex as religious belief and discuss some of these in the general discussion.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Gordon Pennycook and one anonymous reviewer for helpful suggestions throughout the revision process.

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Correspondence to Jared Parker Friedman.

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Friedman, J.P., Jack, A.I. What Makes You So Sure? Dogmatism, Fundamentalism, Analytic Thinking, Perspective Taking and Moral Concern in the Religious and Nonreligious. J Relig Health 57, 157–190 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-017-0433-x

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Dogmatism
  • Moral concern
  • Perspective taking
  • Default mode network (DMN)
  • Task-positive network (TPN)