Religious people hang onto religion because of 'emotional resonance', while atheists feel negatively towards faith because they have analytical brains.
The study was published in the Journal of Religion and Health, and consisted of 209 Christians, 152 non-religious, nine Jewish, five Buddhist, four Hindu, one Muslim, and 24 'other' religions.
The groups all completed tests for dogmatism, empathetic and moral concerns, and a test of their analytical reasoning.
Overall the study found that religious participants showed dogmatism and empathetic concern, while non-religious persons had better analytical reasoning skills.
Jared Friedman, one of the paper's co-authors explained:
It suggests that religious individuals may cling to certain beliefs, especially those which seem at odds with analytic reasoning, because those beliefs resonate with their moral sentiments
Analysis vs Empathy - the two track mind
According to research from scientists at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, the brain works on two tracks - empathetic and analytical.
People generally switch between the two, depending on the situation at hand.
The research found that in the minds of religious people the empathetic side dominates, and the same applies for the analytic track in the minds of atheists.
Co-author of the paper, associate professor Anthony Jack wrote
Emotional resonance helps religious people to feel more certain - the more moral correctness they see in something, the more it affirms their thinking.
In contrast, moral concerns make nonreligious people feel less certain.
It's also possible that this dichotomy between religious and non-religious brains, also exists between other strongly held beliefs such as veganism, climate change, or political opinions.
Terrorists, within their bubble, believe it's a highly moral thing they're doing. They believe they are righting wrongs and protecting something sacred.
Added Jack. He also related the emotional and empathetic track to people's responses to fake news and current events in the US administration.
With all this talk about fake news, the Trump administration, by emotionally resonating with people, appeals to members of its base while ignoring facts.
The study did find that there were similarities between the two extremes on the spectrum of religious and non-religious.
The more dogmatic a participant was, the less analytical they were, even if that dogma was militant atheism. They were also less likely to understand things from the perspective of another.