Meta-analysis: Mentalizing and Religiosity

Dear colleagues,

We invite you to contribute to a meta-analysis on the relationship between mentalizing tendencies and abilities (broadly construed: e.g., cognitive/affective theory of mind, empathy, agency detection, anthropomorphism) and religiosity. If you have or are aware of published or unpublished data that attempt to correlate mentalizing with religiosity (broadly defined) please contact us.


A close relationship between mentalizing and religiosity is a theoretical mainstay of the cognitive and psychological study of religion (Barrett, 2004; Coleman & Hood, 2015; McCauley, 2011). To date, empirical tests of this relationship have utilized various methodologies (e.g., fMRI, self-report, experimental manipulation) and clinical and psychometric measures (e.g., Empathizing Quotient, Reading the Mind in the Eyes, Interpersonal Reactivity Index). These have often yielded mixed results for the importance of mentalizing to religiosity (e.g., Norenzayan et al., 2012; Reddish et al., 2016). We therefore aim to assess the state of the empirical evidence by quantifying the diversity and magnitude of any relationships between these two clusters of variables.

At the bottom of this webpage you can find a full list of relevant published studies that have been identified so far (this list will be updated as colleagues contact us).

If you have or are aware of any potentially relevant published or unpublished studies that don't already appear on this list then we would greatly appreciate it if you could contact Thomas Coleman at

Many thanks in advance for your assistance.


Kind regards,


Thomas Coleman*, Jonathan Jong*, Tristan Philip, Valerie van Mulukom*, Miguel Farias*


*Coventry University, United Kingdom



Relevant Papers (updated 25 April 2017)


  • Andesen, M., Pfeiffer, T., Mueller, S., Schjoedt, U. (in review) Agency detection in predictive minds: A Virtual Reality Study.

  • Banerjee, K., & Bloom, P. (2014). Why did this happen to me? Religious believers’ and non-believers’ teleological reasoning about life events. Cognition, 133(1), 277-303. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.06.017

  • Barnes, K. (2016). Biases in representation of external agency: Investigating the role of schizotypal traits, supernatural belief, and aversive circumstances (Doctor of Philosophy). University of Cambridge.

  • Barnes, K., & Gibson, N. (2013). Supernatural Agency: Individual Difference Predictors and Situational Correlates. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 23(1), 42-62.

  • Caldwell-Harris, C. L., Murphy, C. F., Velazquez, T., & McNamara, P. (2011). Religious belief systems of persons with high functioning autism. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Boston, MA.

  • Caldwell-Harris, C. L., Wilson, A., LoTempio, E., & Beit-Hallahmi, B. (2011). Exploring the atheist personality: Well-being, awe, and magical thinking in atheists, Buddhists, and Christians. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 14(7), 659-672. doi:10.1080/13674676.2010.509847

  • Coleman, T.J. III. (2016), The social brain in human and religious evolution: Elucidating the role of theory of mind in (non)religious belief. Masters Theses and Doctoral Dissertations.

  • Damiano, R., de Andrade Ribeiro, L., dos Santos, A., da Silva, B., & Lucchetti, G. (2016). Empathy is Associated with Meaning of Life and Mental Health Treatment but not Religiosity Among Brazilian Medical Students. Journal of Religion and Health, 56(3), 1003-1017.

  • Ebstyne King, P., & Furrow, J. (2004). Religion as a resource for positive youth development: Religion, social capital, and moral outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 40(5), 703-713.

  • Ekblad, L., & Oviedo, L. (under review) Religious cognition among subjects with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): How different.

  • Gutierrez, I., & Mattis, J. (2014). Factors Predicting Volunteer Engagement Among Urban-Residing African American Women. Journal of Black Studies, 45(7), 599-619.

  • Heywood, B. T., & Bering, J. M. (2014). “Meant to be”: How religious beliefs and cultural religiosity affect the implicit bias to think teleologically. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 4(3), 183-201. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2013.782888

  • Jack, A., Friedman, J., Boyatzis, R., & Taylor, S. (2016). Why Do You Believe in God? Relationships between Religious Belief, Analytic Thinking, Mentalizing and Moral Concern. PLOS ONE, 11(3), e0149989.

  • Järnefelt, E., Canfield, C. F., & Kelemen, D. (2015). The divided mind of a disbeliever: Intuitive beliefs about nature as purposefully created among different groups of non-religious adults. Cognition, 140, 72-88. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.02.005

  • Kapogiannis, D., Barbey, A. K., Su, M., Zamboni, G., Krueger, F., & Grafman, J. (2009). Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(12), 4876-4881. doi:10.1073/pnas.0811717106

  • Kapogiannis, D., Deshpande, G., Krueger, F., Thornburg, M. P., & Grafman, J. H. (2014). Brain networks shaping religious belief. Brain Connectivity, 4(1), 70-79. doi:10.1089/brain.2013.0172

  • Kelemen, D. (1999b). The scope of teleological thinking in preschool children. Cognition, 70(3), 241-272. doi:10.1016/S0010-0277(99)00010-4

  • Kelemen, D. (2003). British and American children's preferences for teleo-functional explanations of the natural world. Cognition, 88(2), 201-221. doi:10.1016/S0010-0277(03)00024-6

  • Kelemen, D. (2004). Are children “intuitive theists”? Reasoning about purpose and design in nature. Psychological Science, 15(5), 295-301. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00672.x

  • Kelemen, D., & Rosset, E. (2009). The human function compunction: Teleological explanation in adults. Cognition, 111(1), 138-143. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2009.01.001

  • Kelemen, D., Rottman, J., & Seston, R. (2013). Professional physical scientists display tenacious teleological tendencies: Purpose-based reasoning as a cognitive default. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142(4), 1074-1083. doi:10.1037/a0030399

  • Knight, N., Sousa, P., Barrett, J. L., & Atran, S. (2004). Children’s attributions of beliefs to humans and God: cross-cultural evidence. Cognitive Science, 28(1), 117-126. doi:10.1016/j.cogsci.2003.09.002

  • Lane, J. D., Evans, E. M., Brink, K. A., & Wellman, H. M. (2016). Developing concepts of ordinary and extraordinary communication. Developmental Psychology, 52(1), 19-30. doi:10.1037/dev0000061

  • Lindeman, M., & Lipsanen, J. (2016). Diverse cognitive profiles of religious believers and nonbelievers. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 1-8. doi:10.1080/10508619.2015.1091695

  • Lindeman, M., Riekki, T., & Svedholm-Häkkinen, A. M. (2015). Individual differences in conceptions of soul, mind, and brain. Journal of Individual Differences, 36(3), 157-162. doi:10.1027/1614-0001/a000167

  • Lindeman, M., Svedholm-Häkkinen, A. M., & Lipsanen, J. (2015). Ontological confusions but not mentalizing abilities predict religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in supernatural purpose. Cognition, 134, 63-76. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.09.008

  • Łowicki, P., & Zajenkowski, M. (2016). No empathy for people nor for God: The relationship between the Dark Triad, religiosity and empathy. Personality And Individual Differences.

  • Maij, D., Harreveld, F., Gervais, W., Schrag, Y., Mohr, C., & van Elk, M. (under review) Mentalizing, CREDs and Supernatural Beliefs.

  • Meijer-van Abbema, M., & Koole, S. (2017). After God’s image: prayer leads people with positive God beliefs to read less hostility in others’ eyes. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 1-17.

  • Norenzayan, A., Gervais, W. M., & Trzesniewski, K. H. (2012). Mentalizing deficits constrain belief in a personal god. PLoS ONE, 7. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036880

  • Reddish, P., Tok, P., & Kundt, R. (2016). Religious cognition and behaviour in Autism: The role of mentalizing. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 26(2), 95-112. doi:10.1080/10508619.2014.1003518

  • Richert, R. A., & Barrett, J. L. (2005). Do you see what I see? Young children's assumptions about God's perceptual abilities. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 15(4), 283-295. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr1504_2

  • Riekki, T., Lindeman, M., & Lipsanen, J. (2013). Conceptions about the mind-body problem and their relations to afterlife beliefs, paranormal beliefs, religiosity, and ontological confusions. Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 9(3), 112-120. doi:10.2478/v10053-008-0138-5

  • Routledge, C., Abeyta, A. A., & Roylance, C.  (in press). Further exploring the relationship between religion and existential health: The effects of religiosity and trait differences in mentalizing on indicators of meaning in life. Journal of Religion and Health.

  • Rosenkranz, P., & Charlton, B. G. (2013). Individual differences in existential orientation: Empathizing and systemizing explain the sex difference in religious orientation and science acceptance. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 35(1), 119-146. doi:10.1163/15736121-12341255

  • Rottman, J., Zhu, L., Wang, W., Seston Schillaci, R., Clark, K. J., & Kelemen, D. (2016). Cultural influences on the teleological stance: evidence from China. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 1-10. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2015.1118402

  • Schaap-Jonker, H., Sizoo, B., van Schothorst-van Roekel, J., & Corveleyn, J. (2013). Autism spectrum disorders and the image of god as a core aspect of religiousness. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 23(2), 145-160. doi:10.1080/10508619.2012.688005

  • Schjoedt, U., Stødkilde-Jørgensen, H., Geertz, A. W., & Roepstorff, A. (2009). Highly religious participants recruit areas of social cognition in personal prayer. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 4(2), 199-207. doi:10.1093/scan/nsn050

  • Shtulman, A. (2008). Variation in the anthropomorphization of supernatural beings and its implications for cognitive theories of religion. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34(5), 1123-1138. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.34.5.1123

  • Talmont-Kaminski, K., & Wojcik, A. (2017). Commentary: Why Do You Believe in God? Relationships between Religious Belief, Analytic Thinking, Mentalizing and Moral Concern. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.

  • Visuri, I. (In Prep). Autism, theism & atheism. (PhD), Sodertorn University.

  • Vonk, J., & Pitzen, J. (2016). Believing in other minds: Accurate mentalizing does not predict religiosity. Personality and Individual Differences.

  • Willard, A. K., & Norenzayan, A. (2013). Cognitive biases explain religious belief, paranormal belief, and belief in life’s purpose. Cognition, 129(2), 379-391. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2013.07.016

  • Willard, A. K., & Cingl, L. (2017). Testing theories of secularization and religious belief in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Evolution And Human Behavior.

  • Willard, A. K., & Norenzayan, A. (unpublished) “Spiritual But Not Religious”: Cognition, schizotypy, and conversion in alternative beliefs.

  • Wlodarski, R., & Pearce, E. (2016). The God allusion: Individual variation in agency detection, mentalizing and schizotypy and their association with religious beliefs and behaviors. Human Nature, 27(2), 160-172. doi:10.1007/s12110-016-9256-9