News just in, guaranteed to stir smug nods from non-believers and incite irritation among the devout: intelligence correlates negatively with religious belief. You may have seen similar – or contradictory — reports in the past. That’s because scores of studies have asked if religiosity is associated with intelligence. But a just-published meta-analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review considered the evidence from 63 different studies. Overall, the meta analysis establishes the existence of a “reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity”.
University of Rochester psychologists Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman, together with Judtih A. Hall from Boston’s Northeastern University, gathered 80 years of published studies that estimate correlations between religious belief or behavior (like attendance at religious services) and intelligence. By intelligence, they mean analytic intelligence, also known as the g-factor, which captures the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience.” Only 2 of the 63 studies found statistically significant positive correlations between religiosity and intelligence, whereas 35 showed significant negative correlations.
Intelligence linked more tightly to religious belief than religious behavior. While some studies showed that smarter children were less likely to believe, the pattern was weakest among school-age subjects. The links grow stronger in adulthood and remained strong at older ages. Intelligence at one age also predicted religiosity some years later — an additional indication that intelligence shapes religiosity.