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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Dec 22;106(51):21533-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0908374106. Epub 2009 Dec 2.

Believers' estimates of God's beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people's beliefs.

Author information

  • 1Booth School of Business, 5807 South Woodlawn Avenue, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA. epley@chicagobooth.edu

Abstract

People often reason egocentrically about others' beliefs, using their own beliefs as an inductive guide. Correlational, experimental, and neuroimaging evidence suggests that people may be even more egocentric when reasoning about a religious agent's beliefs (e.g., God). In both nationally representative and more local samples, people's own beliefs on important social and ethical issues were consistently correlated more strongly with estimates of God's beliefs than with estimates of other people's beliefs (Studies 1-4). Manipulating people's beliefs similarly influenced estimates of God's beliefs but did not as consistently influence estimates of other people's beliefs (Studies 5 and 6). A final neuroimaging study demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reasoning about one's own beliefs and God's beliefs, but clear divergences when reasoning about another person's beliefs (Study 7). In particular, reasoning about God's beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person's beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God's beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one's own existing beliefs.

PMID:
19955414
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2787468
Free PMC Article

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