What we believed as children about the soul and the afterlife shapes our views as adults – regardless of what we say we believe, according to a new study.
Published in the latest issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology, it looked at the difference between “explicit,” or stated, beliefs, and “implicit” ones—ingrained attitudes we might not admit to.
“My starting point was, assuming that people have these automatic – that is, implicit or ingrained – beliefs about the soul and afterlife, how can we measure those implicit beliefs?” said Stephanie Anglin, a doctoral student in psychology in Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Anglin asked 348 undergraduate psychology students about their beliefs concerning the soul and afterlife when they were 10 years old, and now. Their answers gave her the students’ explicit beliefs – that is, what the students said they believed now, and what they remembered believing back then.
She found that her subjects’ “implicit” beliefs about the soul and the afterlife were close to what they remembered from childhood, but often very unlike what they said they believed now.
Anglin knew of an experiment reported Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009 in which researchers asked people to sign a contract selling their souls to the experimenter for $2. “Almost nobody signed, even though the researchers told them it wasn’t actually a contract and would be shredded right away,” she said.
Her own study found no difference in implicit belief regardless of religious affiliation or lack of it.
She used a method called the Implicit Association Test, used in the past for studies of racial attitudes, to gauge subjects’ implicit beliefs about the soul and afterlife. In the test, a participant sees two concept words paired on the top of a computer screen – in this case, “soul” paired either with “real” or “fake” to gauge beliefs about the soul; “soul” paired either with “eternal” or “death” to address beliefs about the afterlife. A series of words is then flashed on the screen, and the subject must indicate by pressing a key whether each word fits with the two words on top.
“For example, if you had ‘soul’ and ‘fake’ on your screen, words like ‘false’ or ‘artificial’ would fit into that category, but words like ‘existing’ or ‘true’ would not,” Anglin said.
Anglin said there are limitations to her research, but that these provide avenues for future investigation. For instance, she had to rely on her subjects’ memories of what they believed years ago. It would be “really useful,” she said, to “study a group of people over time, from childhood through adulthood, and examine their beliefs” as they develop.
Source : www.world-science.net