Explanations versus applications: The explanatory power of valuable beliefs

Jesse Preston, Nicholas Epley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People hold beliefs that vary not only in their perceived truth, but also in their value to the believer- their meaning, relevance, and importance. We argue that a belief's value is determined, at least in part, by its explanatory power. Highly valuable beliefs are those that can uniquely explain and organize a diverse set of observations. Less valuable beliefs, in contrast, are those that can be explained by other observations, or that explain and organize few observations. The results of three experiments are consistent with these hypotheses. These experiments demonstrate that applying either scientific or religious beliefs to explain other observations increases the perceived value of those beliefs, whereas generating explanations for the existence of beliefs decreases their perceived value. Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for people's resistance to explaining their own beliefs, for the perceived value of science and religion, and for culture wars between people holding opposing beliefs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)826-832
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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