Experimental psychologists find that humans prefer explanations for events that have certainty and a sense of purpose over undirected randomness.
Override the controversy: Analytic thinking predicts endorsement of evolution, a paper by U Kentucky psych researcher Will M. Gervais to be published in September's Cognition, argues that a belief in Creationism is the result of both upbringing and this cognitive bias.
He characterizes people's cognitive styles as being on a continuum between "intuitive" and "analytic," based on a willingness to override one's intuitive response based on explicit deliberation. He found a statistical correlation between a belief in Biblical Creationism and "intuitive" reasoning styles.
These findings are consistent with at least three possibilities. The first — suggested by the clever title of Gervais' paper, "Override the Controversy" — is that all individuals have a tendency to reject evolution on an intuitive level, but that some individuals engage in a form of analytic or reflective thinking that allows them to "override" this intuitive response.
A second possibility is that some individuals have stronger intuitive responses than others. Such individuals are likely to experience a stronger pull toward purposive thinking, a greater aversion to uncertainty and other cognitive preferences at odds with evolution. If their intuitive responses are generally stronger, they're also less likely to succeed in overriding them by engaging in analytic or reflective thought.
Yet, a third possibility — and one I find compelling — is that effects of cognitive style interact with cultural input. Creationism and belief in God might be "intuitive" for many Kentucky undergraduates not only because these beliefs align well with basic human tendencies, but also because these are the beliefs they grew up with and that dominate their communities. What might require analytic and reflective thought isn't (just) overriding cognitive systems that govern intuition, but overriding the norms of one's upbringing and peers.
Don't Believe In Evolution? Try Thinking Harder [Tania Lombrozo/NPR]