Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Even professional scientists are compelled to see purpose in nature, psychologists find

Date:
October 17, 2012
Source:
Boston University College of Arts & Sciences
Summary:
A team of psychology researchers has found that, despite years of scientific training, even professional chemists, geologists, and physicists from major universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Yale cannot escape a deep-seated belief that natural phenomena exist for a purpose.

A team of researchers in Boston University's Psychology Department has found that, despite years of scientific training, even professional chemists, geologists, and physicists from major universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Yale cannot escape a deep-seated belief that natural phenomena exist for a purpose.

Although purpose-based "teleological" explanations are often found in religion, such as in creationist accounts of Earth's origins, they are generally discredited in science. When physical scientists have time to ruminate about the reasons why natural objects and events occur, they explicitly reject teleological accounts, instead favoring causal, more mechanical explanations. However, the study by lead author Deborah Kelemen, associate professor of psychology, and collaborators Joshua Rottman and Rebecca Seston finds that when scientists are required to think under time pressure, an underlying tendency to find purpose in nature is revealed. The results provide the strongest evidence yet that the human mind has a robust default preference for purpose-based explanation that persists from early in development.

The study is published online in the October edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (published by the American Psychological Association).

To test the hypothesis that there is a natural preference for teleological explanations, the researchers asked a group of physical scientists from top-ranked American universities to judge explanations such as "Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe" or "The Earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV light" under speeded conditions so they had little time to reflect on their answers. Another group of scientists made judgments of the same statements without any time restriction. The researchers found that, despite maintaining high accuracy on control items, scientists who were under time pressure demonstrated greater acceptance of scientifically unwarranted purpose-based explanations than their un-speeded colleagues who generally rejected them. This same pattern of heightened purpose-orientation also held among two control groups -- undergraduates and college graduates from the local community in the same age cohort as the scientists -- although the scientists' overall endorsement of inaccurate purpose-based explanations was lower by comparison. In a second test, the researchers found that despite their years of scientific training, chemists, geologists, and physicists showed no less of a purpose bias than English and history professors whose science knowledge was substantially lower.

"It is quite surprising what these studies show," says Kelemen. "Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature. It seems that our minds may be naturally more geared to religion than science."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Boston University College of Arts & Sciences. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kelemen, Deborah; Rottman, Joshua; Seston, Rebecca. Professional Physical Scientists Display Tenacious Teleological Tendencies: Purpose-Based Reasoning as a Cognitive Default. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Oct 15 , 2012 [link]

Cite This Page:

Boston University College of Arts & Sciences. "Even professional scientists are compelled to see purpose in nature, psychologists find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017102451.htm>.
Boston University College of Arts & Sciences. (2012, October 17). Even professional scientists are compelled to see purpose in nature, psychologists find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017102451.htm
Boston University College of Arts & Sciences. "Even professional scientists are compelled to see purpose in nature, psychologists find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017102451.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Food Addiction Might Be Caused By PTSD

Newsy (Sep. 18, 2014) New research shows that women who suffer from PTSD are three times more likely to develop a food addiction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Corporal punishment in the United States is on the decline, but there is renewed debate over its use after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins