We investigated whether Calvinists and atheists, brought up in the same country and culture (the Netherlands), differ with respect to the way they attend to and process global and local features of visual stimuli. Cultural (and, possibly, other) differences in perceptual processing and attentional emphasis are assumed to be produced by social practice that provides selective reward for attending to particular stimulus features and adopting particular attentional control settings. We speculate that practicing a religion and being exposed to particular religious practices may lead, among other things, to a chronic bias towards particular attentional control parameters. In particular, our study was inspired by the Dutch neo-Calvinism concept of sphere sovereignty, which emphasizes that each sphere or sector of society has its own responsibilities and authorities, and stands equal to other spheres. If Dutch Calvinists, as compared to Dutch atheists, have been rewarded more for adopting a processing style that emphasizes a rather independent view of the self, this would be likely to induce an attentional set that facilitates the processing of the local details.
It did turn out that the Calvinists were more likely to focus local rather than global aspects of the scene; or, more strictly, they were consistently quicker at identifying small shapes, in a way consistent with being less distracted by the context of the shapes. The explanation given for this in terms of Calvinist view of self (or, rather, what they attribute to the Calvinist view of self) strikes me as a bit implausible (I would want first to rule out that it is not something specific in Dutch Calvinist religious practice that trains the attention in this way), and it's absurd to pin anything in cognitive science on a single experiment; but it would be interesting to see how it holds up under further testing, and also how Calvinists compare with non-Calvinist non-atheists and with Calvinists from other cultures.