Practicing belief could lead to belief — an application of a social psychologist’s work

The following excerpt from an article in Discover leads me to believe that practices, rituals, ceremonies, and so forth could actually cause a belief to develop.

[Social psychologist Daryl] Bem applied to graduate programs in psychology and ended up at the University of Michigan. In one of his first experiments there, he studied the relationship between attitudes and behavior by seeing whether he could get children at a local school to like brown bread, which they avoided. He put half the kids through a weekend intervention in which they got a reward for saying they liked brown bread. The other students simply listened to a presentation of images of different foods along with a voice-over of Bem saying, when a picture of brown bread appeared on-screen, “You like brown bread.”

To Bem’s surprise, both groups increased their consumption of brown bread, and by a similar amount, the following week. “Somehow my saying to them, ‘You like brown bread’ was the same as their saying it to themselves,” he explains. “The leap I made from that is, maybe as adults we rely more on observations and inference from stimuli and our own responses to decide what our internal states are.” An example would be eating a second sandwich and then remarking to yourself, “I guess I was hungrier than I thought,” or realizing only after biting your nails all day that “something must be bugging me.”

By the end of the 1960s, the idea that behavior can be prelude to belief had gained enough support to make Bem a rising star, propelling him to a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh….

Read the entire article on this fascinating man here.

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