Non-religious people are more likely to be analytical thinkers, researchers say, while those who are intensely religious will have a strong sense of morality.
They also found that decreasing empathy among non-religious participants in the study corresponded to increasing dogmatism.
But while the analytical left side of the brain appears to rule the non-religious dogmatist’s mind, the opposite is true for those with staunch religious beliefs.
“It suggests that religious individuals may cling to certain beliefs, especially those which seem at odds with analytic reasoning, because those beliefs resonate with their moral sentiments,” said PhD student Jared Friedman, a co-author of the study.
Anthony Jack, associate professor of philosophy and co-author of the research, added “emotional resonance helps religious people to feel more certain”.
“The more moral correctness they see in something, the more it affirms their thinking,” he explains.
“In contrast, moral concerns make nonreligious people feel less certain.”
In both groups, higher critical reasoning skills were associated with lower levels of dogmatism.
The majority of participants in the study identified as Christian or non-religious; Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim participants also took part.
More than 900 people completed tests assessing dogmatism, empathetic concern, aspects of analytical reasoning, and prosocial intentions.
The study by Case Western Reserve University was published in the Journal of Religion and Health.