What are beliefs and why do we have them?

We use beliefs to process stimuli we encounter through our senses, such as our eyes, ears, mouth, brain, etc1 .

Stimulus examples: physical and non-physical objects like people, yourself, thoughts, ideas, events, memories, places, words, impulses, and emotions

Beliefs are our brain’s way of making sense of and navigating our complex world. They are mental representations of the ways our brains expect things in our environment to behave, and how things should be related to each other—the patterns our brain expects the world to conform to.

Psychiatrist Ralph Lewis – What Actually Is a Belief? And Why Is It So Hard to Change?

In summary, I think we can view beliefs as information stored in our brain that tells us what a stimulus is, what it means, how it works, or how we think it should work.

Example beliefs

When the stimulus is yourself/”I”

  • I’m intelligent
  • Something is wrong with me
  • I can’t look or be uncomfortable

When the stimulus is human behavior

  • Making mistakes is bad
  • Assumptions are good
  • Not knowing what to do is bad

Example of how we use beliefs in everyday life

The below graphics provide a high-level overview and example of how we use beliefs to process stimuli we’re aware of. The moment-in-time conclusions we draw after processing stimuli are called perceptions2.

Example awareness inputs: what we see/hear/taste/touch, thoughts, impulses, and emotions.


  1. Rüdiger J. Seitz, Hans-Ferdinand Angel, Belief formation – A driving force for brain evolution, Brain and Cognition, Volume 140, 2020, 105548, ISSN 0278-2626, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2020.105548. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278262619303860) ↩︎
  2. Definition of perception from the American Psychology Association: the process or result of becoming aware of objects, relationships, and events by means of the senses, which includes such activities as recognizing, observing, and discriminating. These activities enable organisms to organize and interpret the stimuli received into meaningful knowledge and to act in a coordinated manner. ↩︎

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