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J. Jackson et al., PLOS ONE 10.1371 (2018)

What does God look like? Look in the mirror

For the religious, looking to the heavens is much like looking in the mirror, according to a new study. Researchers have found that Americans imagine a God that resembles themselves—a visage that can vary dramatically depending on one’s race and politics. 

In the first step of the study, 511 U.S. Christians each viewed 300 pairs of slightly different human faces and selected which one better represented God. The scientists then generated an average face for each participant demographic. As opposed to the old, wrathful deity of the Old Testament, the overall average face (above, left) looked young and loving—as rated by a separate group of volunteers—than the average of the unchosen faces (above, right), according to a paper published this week in PLOS ONE.

But political affiliation played a big role in which faces were judged most “accurate.” Conservatives tended to envisage God as more masculine, powerful, and white, whereas liberals pictured a more loving God with darker skin. People are also egocentric in their depictions: Volunteers who were older, more attractive, and black saw God as older, more attractive, and more black, respectively. And a male God still seems to dominate the popular consciousness: Both men and women overwhelmingly viewed God as a man.