Many people, especially religious people, believe that the brain and the mind are two separate entities. They’re philosophical dualists. Most religions espouse such an idea, and dualist beliefs are found in virtually all human cultures.
New research now demonstrates that espousing a dualist philosophy can have important real-life consequences. Across five related studies, researchers found that people primed with dualist beliefs had more reckless attitudes toward health and exercise, and also preferred (and ate) a less healthy diet than those who held more scientific physicalist beliefs (that the mind/body duality does not, in fact, exist).
Furthermore, they found that the relationship also worked in the other direction. People who were primed with unhealthy behaviors, such as pictures of unhealthy food, reported a stronger dualistic belief than participants who were primed with healthy behaviors.
Overall, the findings from the five studies provide converging evidence demonstrating that mind-body dualistic beliefs decrease the likelihood of engaging in healthy behaviors — the more people perceive their minds and bodies to be distinct entities, the less likely they will be to engage in behaviors that protect their bodies because they view their bodies as being a disposable vessel that merely helps the mind interact with the physical world.