What does God look like? For most Christians in the United States, he is a young, white man.
Psychologist Joshua Conrad Jackson, from the from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues used a new technique to construct an image of what a large sample of American Christians think God looks like.
Younger And Friendlier-Looking God
They asked 511 Americans to look at hundreds of different pairs of faces and select which face from each pair appeared to be more like how they think God would appear. The researchers then combined all the selected faces to assemble a composite face that reflects how the participants have imagined God's appearance.
The result was surprising. Majority of the participants chose a much younger and friendlier version of God. Popular illustrations of God over the centuries tend to show him as an old and white-bearded Caucasian. However, the survey found that many Christians see God as younger, more feminine, and less Caucasian than what popular culture suggests.
Influence Of Political Affiliation And Demographic Characteristics
The researchers also found that people's perception of God depends partly on their political affiliation. The liberals tend to see a more feminine, more loving, and younger God. Meanwhile, conservatives are more likely to perceive God as more Caucasian and more powerful than perceived by the liberals.
Jackson explained that these biases may be rooted from the type of societies preferred by liberals and conservatives.
"Conservatives are more motivated than liberals to live in a well-ordered society, one that would be best regulated by a powerful God," Jackson said. "Liberals are more motivated to live in a tolerant society, which would be better regulated by a loving God."
People's perception of God also appears to be associated with their own demographic characteristics. Younger participants believe in a more youthful God.
Those who think they are more physically attractive also believe in a more physically attractive God. African Americans likewise believe in a God who looked more African American compared with what is perceived by Caucasians.
The researchers cited egocentric bias to explain people's likelihood of believing how God looks like. People tend to project their traits and beliefs onto others
"All participants see God as similar to themselves on attractiveness, age, and, to a lesser extent, race," the researchers reported in the journal PLOS One on June 11.
"These differences are consistent with past research showing that people's views of God are shaped by their group-based motivations and cognitive biases.