Analytic cognitive style predicts religious and paranormal belief.
An analytic cognitive style denotes a propensity to set aside highly salient intuitions when engaging in problem solving. We assess the hypothesis that an analytic cognitive style is associated with a history of questioning, altering, and rejecting (i.e., unbelieving) supernatural claims, both religious and paranormal. In two studies, we examined associations of God beliefs, religious engagement (attendance at religious services, praying, etc.), conventional religious beliefs (heaven, miracles, etc.) and paranormal beliefs (extrasensory perception, levitation, etc.) with performance measures of cognitive ability and analytic cognitive style. An analytic cognitive style negatively predicted both religious and paranormal beliefs when controlling for cognitive ability as well as religious engagement, sex, age, political ideology, and education. Participants more willing to engage in analytic reasoning were less likely to endorse supernatural beliefs. Further, an association between analytic cognitive style and religious engagement was mediated by religious beliefs, suggesting that an analytic cognitive style negatively affects religious engagement via lower acceptance of conventional religious beliefs. Results for types of God belief indicate that the association between an analytic cognitive style and God beliefs is more nuanced than mere acceptance and rejection, but also includes adopting less conventional God beliefs, such as Pantheism or Deism. Our data are consistent with the idea that two people who share the same cognitive ability, education, political ideology, sex, age and level of religious engagement can acquire very different sets of beliefs about the world if they differ in their propensity to think analytically.