New psychology research identifies a robust predictor of atheism in adulthood

People who grew up in a home with relatively little credible displays of faith are more likely to be atheists, according to new research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The study indicates that cultural transmission — or the lack thereof — is a stronger predictor of religious disbelief than other factors, such as heightened analytic thinking.

“Researchers have proposed a bunch of different theories about how religion works, why we have it, and such. I think that atheism is an ideal way to evaluate these theories. They tend to predict really different things about what ought to relate to atheism,” explained Will Gervais, a senior lecturer in psychology at Brunel University London.

For the study, Gervais and his colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,417 U.S. residents. The survey included the Supernatural Beliefs Scale, which assesses the degree to which people hold supernatural beliefs and asked the participants to simply indicate whether they believed in God. The participants also completed psychological assessments of perspective-taking ability, feelings of existential security, exposure to credible cues of religiosity, and reflective versus intuitive cognitive style.

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