Despite the tremendous importance of religious and secular attitudes and beliefs for personal development and decisions made in life, both the cognitive mechanisms and associated brain processes underlying such beliefs are largely unknown. Our project aims to characterize the neurobiological processes underlying the development of religious cognition from early childhood to adulthood from a cognitive-affective neuroscience perspective. We will assess rational and emotional responses to belief statements at different stages of life in religious Christians and in Atheists, which will tap into a classical distinction between “heart knowledge” and “head knowledge” of statements that cannot be empirically verified. Namely, we will investigate whether there is a developmental shift in emotional vs. rational processing of belief statements. Furthermore, we will assess whether the development of religious beliefs is associated with development of other complex forms of cognition, such as moral beliefs and knowledge of scientific facts. Two large-scale experimental studies are planned. In Study 1 we will focus on the development and experimental testing of an innovative inventory for studying different types of beliefs in participants aged 6 to 25-years-old. In Study 2 we will use this new inventory to assess emotional and cognitive responses to religious, moral and scientific knowledge statements that either support or contradict personal beliefs. Analysis of non-invasive electrophysiological measurements in response to belief statements will relate biological and beliefs-related aspects of human existence. The project is expected to deliver three scientific publications, new assessment tools and data to other scientists, a popular book chapter, and brief reports for interested individuals, such as clergy, religious parents and sceptics, and media focusing on religious education and interaction between science and religion.
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