Atheists tend to think in the same, cold-hearted manipulative way as psychopaths - and religious people are more caring, but stupid.
That’s the shocking conclusion of new research from Cape Western Reserve University in Ohio.
The researchers conducted eight linked experiments to investigate how atheists and believers differed in the way their brains operated.
The researchers now believe that there are two ‘networks’ in the brain - one devoted to cold, analytical thinking and one towards more social, ‘moral’ thinking.
Atheists ‘push aside’ the more social way of thinking - and in the process become more prone to self-centred, impulsive behaviour, typical of psychopaths.
Religious people push aside analytical behaviour - meaning that, as previous studies have shown, they tend be less intelligent.
‘Pushing aside a naturalistic world view enables you to delve deeper into the social or emotional side,’ said Dr Tony Jack.
'And that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures’.
'But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical or analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.’
Professor Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University said: 'A stream of research in cognitive psychology has shown that people who have faith (who are religious or spiritual) are not as smart as others.
'Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic.’