If you know what a critical period is, skip this next paragraph:
A 'critical period' is a limited developmental period in which an organism undergoes certain physiological (& therefore psychological) changes, that have a permanent effect on the function of that organism. That is, certain epigenetic phenomena have a limited period in which they may develop to function in a particular manner. For instance, the attachment mechanism in ducklings has a critical period in which it identifies their caregiver, and thus any moving object during that period will suffice (mother duck, Konrad Lorenz, a toy train; ); however, following that period the ducklings do not develop an attachment (http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n14/experimento/lorenz/index-lorenz....
). Human language is believed to have a critical period lasting until humans hit puberty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genie_
(feral_child). Cat's have a critical period in which they can develop certain ocular capabilities (http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Critical_period
). Are there critical periods for the development of cognitive abilities in humans (e.g., logic, creativity, mathematics, etc.)?
More specifically, what I mean to ask is: is there a figurative critical period for rational vs. religious thought? In other words, when a human is developing, is there a limited window in which they can be primed to be religious or rational thinkers for life? I emphasize 'figurative' as surely plasticity of such evolutionarily insignificant developments rules any literal critical period out. I just wonder whether past a certain age, having believed one view of reality for your entire life, cognitive dissonance prevents any change to alternate beliefs, even as you accumulate additional evidence against your beliefs.
Cognitive dissonance is an effect due to the motivation to diminish incompatible information in your mind. For instance, if you spent five hours working on something tedious, rather than thirty minutes, you may come to believe you enjoyed it and it was more fulfilling to reduce dissonance. After a 'critical period', does the amount of time and effort put into religious thought rule out any conversion from it, as to do so would be inefficient? Does receiving more evidence to the contrary of your beliefs make you hold onto them stronger if you've had them for years?
Sorry for being uneloquent and jargony, hope this stirs an interesting thought in someone.