Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Kelly Madole (Director), Dr. Andrew Mienaltowski, Dr. Pitt Derryberry

Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Teleological reasoning reflects the general tendency to view objects, behaviors and events in terms of their “purpose.” Although healthy educated adults tend to refrain from committing errors in teleological reasoning about objects, our knowledge regarding how adults reason about events is limited. It has been suggested that teleological reasoning biases our interpretations of emotionally significant and unexpected life events of which a physical or social cause is absent or unsatisfactory. The current investigation seeks to better understand the types of events that evoke a teleological perspective and the conditions and individual difference factors that facilitate it. The results revealed that participants high in religiosity and low in ACT science reasoning are more likely to commit teleological errors (i.e., imbuing purpose upon events with non-intentional causal forces). Additionally, participants of low religiosity were more likely to commit teleological errors when placed under cognitive load. It appears that two routes to teleological reasoning exist: one that represents an explicit belief system such as religion, and one that reflects implicit intuitions about how the world works. These findings shed light on how, when confronted with certain life events, both our belief systems and situational pressures lead us to rely on intuitive assumptions rather than engage in careful consideration of more scientifically sound alternatives.


Cognition and Perception | Cognitive Psychology