Memory & Cognition

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 1–10 | Cite as

Cognitive style and religiosity: The role of conflict detection

  • Gordon PennycookEmail author
  • James Allan Cheyne
  • Nathaniel Barr
  • Derek J. Koehler
  • Jonathan A. Fugelsang


Recent research has indicated a negative relation between the propensity for analytic reasoning and religious beliefs and practices. Here, we propose conflict detection as a mechanism underlying this relation, on the basis of the hypothesis that more-analytic people are less religious, in part, because they are more sensitive to conflicts between immaterial religious beliefs and beliefs about the material world. To examine cognitive conflict sensitivity, we presented problems containing stereotypes that conflicted with base-rate probabilities in a task with no religious content. In three studies, we found evidence that religiosity is negatively related to conflict detection during reasoning. Independent measures of analytic cognitive style also positively predicted conflict detection. The present findings provide evidence for a mechanism potentially contributing to the negative association between analytic thinking and religiosity, and more generally, they illustrate the insights to be gained from integrating individual-difference factors and contextual factors to investigate analytic reasoning.


Religiosity Cognitive style Dual-process theories Base-rate neglect Conflict detection Individual differences Inductive reasoning Reasoning Social cognition 


Author Note

We thank Marjaana Lindeman and Michiel van Elk for their valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Funding for this study was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Correspondence regarding this manuscript should be addressed to Gordon Pennycook, Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo ON, Canada, N2L 3G1 or by email:

Supplementary material

13421_2013_340_MOESM1_ESM.docx (142 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 141 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon Pennycook
    • 1
    Email author
  • James Allan Cheyne
    • 1
  • Nathaniel Barr
    • 1
  • Derek J. Koehler
    • 1
  • Jonathan A. Fugelsang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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