CUP Undergraduate Research


The Cognitive Neuroscience of Religious Belief and its Origins in Hominid Evolution

Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2015

Document Type

Restricted Access Thesis


College of Theology, Arts, & Sciences



Degree Name

Psychology, BA

First Advisor

Bryant Carlson


Religion and spirituality are seen almost universally in both historical and geographical contexts in Homo sapiens. The goal of this persuasive literature review is to discuss primary research in the fields of cognitive neuropsychology, evolutionary neurobiology, paleoanthropology, archaeology, and primatology to support the thesis that religious thought is evolved as an exaptation of cognitive mechanisms in the human mind intended for other individual and group survival mechanisms, and that the brains of modern humans are inherently predisposed to religious thought and behavior. Comparisons between the cognitive and anatomical differences of humans and those of modern chimpanzees and bonobos establishes the validity of the humanchimpanzee model, while simultaneously highlighting the correlation of specific structural evolution in the hominin brain with the belief in the supernatural. A more detailed exploration of primary archaeological evidence will then explore the evolutionary history of hominin brains and behaviors through various species found in the fossil record. With consideration of the cognitive components required for religious thought and fossil and behavioral evidence, a discussion will include the hypothesis that Homo sapiens were not the only species to develop a belief in the supernatural.

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