The Cognitive Psychology of Belief in the Supernatural
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Although many psychologists have studied evolution's imprint on the
human mind, scant attention has been given to one particularly
remarkable human trait—our widespread belief in the
supernatural. Could a belief in a deity or an afterlife be
evolutionarily advantageous? Or are these beliefs a by-product of
our ability to reason about the minds of others? The author and his
colleagues have studied children to determine at what age they will
believe that a spirit is trying to send them a message, or assert
that a deceased agent (i.e., in the "afterlife") has
attributes such as anger or thirst. The author argues that, despite
the social quagmire surrounding all things religious, the rigorous
study of supernatural beliefs by psychological science can be
important for a complete understanding of human cognitive development.