Scientific norms value skepticism; many religious traditions value faith. We test the hypothesis that these different attitudes towards inquiry and belief result in different inferences from epistemic behavior: Whereas the pursuit of evidence or explanations is taken as a signal of commitment to science, forgoing further evidence and explanation is taken as a signal of commitment to religion. Two studies (N = 401) support these predictions. We also find that deciding to pursue inquiry is judged more moral and trustworthy, with moderating effects of participant religiosity and scientism. These findings suggest that epistemic behavior can be a social signal, and shed light on the epistemic and social functions of scientific vs. religious belief.
Much of human learning throughout the lifespan is achieved through seeking and generating explanations. However, very little is known about what triggers a learner to seek an explanation. In two studies, we investigate what makes a given event or phenomenon stand in need of explanation. In Study 1, we show that a learner's judgment of "need for explanation" for a given question predicts that learner's likelihood of seeking an answer to this question. In Study 2, we explore several potential predictors of need for explanation. We find that the need for explanation is greater for questions expected to have useful answers that require expert understanding, and that "need for explanation" can be differentiated from general curiosity.