Nearly 90 percent of Americans say they believe in God, and a new study reveals just what those Americans think God would look like.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 511 American Christians to find out how they view God by showing them hundreds of pairs of faces and asking which in each pair looked more like how they picture God.
Contrary to popular portrayals of God in art as a older, white bearded Caucasian man, the composite face revealed by researchers is younger, less masculine and less Caucasian.
Researchers said how people view God was influenced by their political bent, with liberals seeing a more feminine, younger man and “more loving,” while conservatives saw God as more Caucasian, older and “more powerful.”
“These biases might have stemmed from the type of societies liberals and conservatives want,” suggested Joshua Conrad Jackson, the study’s lead author in a statement. “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.”
Age was another factor in how someone imagines God, with younger people choosing younger faces. Personal attractiveness was also influential, with more attractive people choosing a more attractive God.
Finally, African Americans tended to imagine a God that was more African American-looking, as opposed to Caucasian, with men and women choosing a more masculine God.
“People’s tendency to believe in a God that looks like them is consistent with an egocentric bias,” said Professor Kurt Gray, the study’s senior author and a psychology professor in the College of Arts & Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. “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.”
The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE.