Psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently conducted an interesting study to determine what American Christians think God looks like. The result, as Gizmodo noted, is a lot like Elon Musk.
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) June 13, 2018
The researchers met with more than 500 American Christians and showed them each 300 pairs of photos of faces “generated by overlaying random noise on a base face representing a statistically average American,” as Gizmodo explained.
They then took the images that participants said most represented their view of God, and created this image that represented “masculine, Caucasian, attractive, intelligent and loving” features. The “anti-face” however—which was made by compiling the photos that were most commonly not selected—looks dramatically different. (Interestingly, neither were the wizard-like images often used in pop culture representations of God.)
As the research’s senior author explained: “People’s tendency to believe in a God that looks like them is consistent with an egocentric bias. People often project their beliefs and traits onto others, and our study shows that God’s appearance is no different—people believe in a God who not only thinks like them, but also looks like them.”
They also uncovered some interesting political influences. From the press release:
Illustrations of God have nearly always shown him as an old and august white-bearded Caucasian man. But the researchers found that many Christians saw God as younger, more feminine, and less Caucasian that popular culture suggests.
In fact, people’s perceptions of God tended to rely partly on their political affiliation. Liberals tended to see God as more feminine, younger, and more loving than conservatives. Conservatives also saw God as more Caucasian and more powerful than liberals.
As one of the researchers explained, “Past research shows that conservatives are more motivated than liberals to live in a well-ordered society, one that would be best regulated by a powerful God. On the other hand, liberals are more motivated to live in a tolerant society, which would be better regulated by a loving God.”