The £1.9 million study was conducted in 20 countries and looked at whether such beliefs are learned or a natural human inclination.
It found that people living in cities in developed countries were less likely to have religious beliefs than those living in rural areas, and that people with religious beliefs may be more willing to cooperate as a society.
The researchers suggested that attempts to suppress religious beliefs would ultimately fail because human thought ‘seems to be rooted to religious concepts’.
They found that it was especially natural for children under the age of five to believe in ‘superhuman properties’.
In one test, young children were asked whether their mother would know the contents of a closed box.
While children at the age of three were likely to think their mother would always know the contents of the box, by the age of four they started to understand that their mothers were not all-knowin