Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The eye of the (religious/atheist) beholder

What impact can religion (or non-religion) make on how we see the world? There is an interesting new paper out in the journal Cognition that looks at this issue. I have just downloaded the paper and will have another post on it later (I'm traveling right now...). In the mean time, here is the summary from Science:
As academic psychologists have ventured beyond institutional and national boundaries, they have come upon an impressive influence of culture upon cognition. A canonical example of this is the relative tendency of East Asians to see visual scenes via a holistic mindset in contrast to the Western style of focusing on salient objects. Nevertheless, within these cultural categories, there is considerable intrinsic variation, which can be uncovered, for instance, in comparisons of Chinese and Japanese. Colzato et al. have looked at the linkage between religious upbringing and visual perception in three somewhat less heterogeneous populations—neo-Calvinists in the Netherlands, Roman Catholics in Italy, and Orthodox Jews in Israel—and found that adherents of each of these religions differed from atheists of the same cultural background. The Calvinists, whose tradition emphasizes the role of the individual, showed greater visual attentiveness to local features, whereas the big picture perspective was favored by Catholics and Jews, whose traditions stress social togetherness.
The paper appears in Cognition 117,10.1016, and has a great title: God: Do I Have Your Attention? Here is the abstract:
Religion is commonly defined as a set of rules, developed as part of a culture. Here we provide evidence that practice in following these rules systematically changes the way people attend to visual stimuli, as indicated by the individual sizes of the global precedence effect (better performance to global than to local features). We show that this effect is significantly reduced in Calvinism, a religion emphasizing individual responsibility, and increased in Catholicism and Judaism, religions emphasizing social solidarity. We also show that this effect is long-lasting (still affecting baptized atheists) and that its size systematically varies as a function of the amount and strictness of religious practices. These findings suggest that religious practice induces particular cognitive-control styles that induce chronic, directional biases in the control of visual attention.
Curious, where Muslims will fall under - and then will there be a difference between Shias and Sunnis, or how much do cultural differences wash out the religious differences. Nevertheless, this is interesting stuff.


Don said...

Hey Salman, I hope your travels are going well. Regarding your last point, I would think a Muslim version of this study would have to be very complex. The paper takes into account geographical, denominational, and religious factors, right?

I think I'll have to give it a look!

Vanessa said...

Yes, very interesting. I look forward to reading more. Any version would have to be complex. In addition to taking geographical, denominational and religious factors, what about a diaspora/migration effect?