Reliance on the supernatural grows with age

August 31st, 2012 - 4:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 31 (IANS) Reliance on supernatural explanations for death and illness grows rather than declines with age, according to a new psychology study.

“As children assimilate cultural concepts into their intuitive belief systems - from God to atoms to evolution - they engage in coexistence thinking,” said Cristine Legare, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas, who led the study.

“When they merge supernatural and scientific explanations, they integrate them in a variety of predictable and universal ways,” adds Legare

Legare and her colleagues reviewed more than 30 studies on how people aged five to 75 years from various countries reason with three major existential questions: the origin of life, illness and death.

They also conducted a study with 366 respondents in South Africa, where medical and traditional healing practices are both widely available, the journal “Child Development” reports.

As part of the study, Legare presented the respondents with a variety of stories about people who had AIDS. They were then asked to endorse or reject several biological and supernatural explanations for why the characters in the stories contracted the virus, according to a Texas statement.

According to the findings, participants of all age groups agreed with biological explanations for at least one event. Yet supernatural explanations such as witchcraft were also frequently supported among children aged five and above and universally among adults.

Among adults, only 26 percent believed that illness could be caused by either biology or witchcraft, and 38 percent combined biological and scientific explanations into one theory.

For example: “Witchcraft, which is mixed with evil spirits, and unprotected sex caused AIDS.”

However, 57 percent combined both witchcraft and biological explanations. For example: “A witch can put an HIV-infected person in your path.”

Legare said the findings contradict the common assumption that supernatural beliefs dissipate with age and knowledge.

“The findings show that supernatural explanations for topics of core concern to humans are pervasive across cultures,” Legare said. “If anything, in both industrialised and developing countries, supernatural explanations are frequently endorsed more often among adults than younger children.”

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