Religious people are more likely to have a poorer understanding of the world and are more likely to believe objects like rocks and paper have human qualities, scientists say. Religious beliefs were linked with a weaker ability to understand physical and biological phenomenon such as volcanoes, flowers, rocks and wind without giving them human qualities. Believers were more likely to think that inanimate objects such as metal, oil, clothes and paper can think and feel, and agree with statements such as "Stones sense the cold".
Researchers at the University of Helsinki compared believers in God or the paranormal to people with autism after finding they tend to struggle to understand the realities of the world around us. Marjaana Lindeman and Annika Svedholm-Häkkinen, who completed the study, said:
“The more the participants believed in religious or other paranormal phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena were… and the more they regarded inanimate targets as mental phenomena”. Researchers said their findings suggest people’s lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own, human characteristics to the whole universe, “resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena”.
This confusion between mental and physical qualities “has also been recognised mainly among ancient people and small children”, they added. The scientists compared religious believers to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the mental and the physical, although autistic people are at the opposite end of the spectrum because they often see the world as entirely physical and struggle to understand the mental state of others.