Psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have reconstructed what Americans think God looks like, using a new technique.
A team of psychologists showed a sample group of 511 Christians hundreds of randomly varying face pairs. The participants were asked to choose which from the pair of faces they thought looked most like how they imagined God looked like. In this study, all references to God refer to the Christian deity.
The researchers then merged these selected faces to create the final face – an average of how Americans imagine God looks.
Far from the usual images of a big beardy old white man, the study showed that many American Christians saw God as more feminine and younger than has traditionally been depicted.
Unsurprisingly, they also found that how people viewed God was influenced by their political beliefs, with conservatives seeing God as more caucasian and more “powerful” than liberals, who saw God as more loving and feminine.
Overall, the left face shown below depicts the final amalgamation of all the faces selected for having God-like qualities, whilst the right shows a blend of least God-like faces.
Or, to put it slightly more dramatically: TREMBLE PUNY HUMAN AND BEHOLD THE FACE OF GOD.
Essentially, the study found that when you ask people what God looks like, they choose something that looks an awful lot like themselves.
“Independent ratings suggest that, as predicted, perceptions of God’s face are shaped by egocentrism,” the authors write in the study, published in PLOS One.
“Older participants saw an older God, more attractive participants saw a more attractive God, and African Americans saw a marginally more African American God.”
Just as the Bible says God created man in his own image, it turns out we make our gods in ours. However, perceptions of God’s face didn’t vary across gender, with both men and women seeing God as similarly male.
“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, in a statement.
“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.”