People with traits associated with autism, particularly traits associated with mentalizing deficits, are less likely to believe in God, according to a new study.

The latest discovery strengthens the psychological theory that the likelihood of having religious belief largely depends on the ability for “theory of mind” or ‘mentalization’, a concept described as being able to imagine what others are thinking and to perceive and interpret behavior in terms of intentional mental states.

Because one of the trademarks of autism spectrum disorders, a group of developmental conditions marked by communication and social difficulties, is the inability to infer and respond to what other people are thinking, researchers speculated whether mentalizing deficits associated with the disorder would affect an individual’s likelihood for religious belief.

People’s beliefs in God are often defined by feelings of having a personal relationship with the deity, and prayer and worship often requires a person to interpret or sense what God could be thinking, therefore researchers predicted possessing traits associated with autism would decrease the likelihood of believing in a God.

Researchers writing in the journal PLoS ONE explained that because people affected by the disorder have difficulties grasping what others think, they will also have troubles intuitively conceptualize deities as intentional agents with mental states who anticipate and respond to human beliefs, desires and concerns, and thus will be less likely to believe in a God.

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2 Comments

  • JOHN JACOB LYONS says:

    Two ideas.

    A purely deistic belief in god would not require ‘theory of mind’. It would therefore be interesting to test the hypothesis that those on the autistic spectrum do not differ from the general population with respect to deistic belief.

    Autism may well be related to one’s ‘thinking style’; intuitive (fast) v. analytic (slow). The observed correlation between autism and believe may arise from a causal link from ‘thinking style’ to religiosity(?)

  • JOHN JACOB LYONS says:

    Please read ‘belief’ for ‘believe’ in my last post.

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