A group of psychologists has asked 551 American Christians what they think their God looks like and have created a facial composite of the results. The unusual study was completed by psychologists from the University of North Carolina.
The psychologists said that the participants' background and political leanings influence the way they imagined their heavenly father. Liberals reportedly described God in more feminine and loving terms while conservatives believed God was a more powerful and masculine figure.
Study shows people believe God is just like them
"These biases might have stemmed from the type of societies that liberals and conservatives want,” said the study’s lead author Joshua Conrad Jackson. “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.”
While the Bible does indicate that God is made in man's image in Genesis 1:27, in other parts of the Bible the description leans towards the non-figurative. Unsurprisingly the participants describe God as being closer to their own image than anything else; white participants described a white God while black participants described a black God.
Younger and older participants also described a God closer to their own age. “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.”
Participants asked to choose which image looks more like God
The resulting composite mugshot was created not from verbal descriptions but generated through a process known as reverse correlation. The 551 study participants were shown hundreds of randomly paired portraits and asked to pick the face that looked more like “the face of God.”
In most cases, people tended to pick an image that more closely resembled themselves, except for one big exception. Most women also envisaged a more masculine looking God.
This is not that surprising considering most references in the Bible refer to a male God and the Christian church is predominantly a patriarchal organization. The study has released two mugshots of God.
One version is derived from a younger Christian audience, the other from an older audience. Many online media outlets have drawn reference to God-likeness to an 80’s pop singer. The format of the image means it's hard not to think about which famous criminals God may resemble.