Contrary to common wisdom, older people are more likely than adolescents to turn to supernatural explanations for difficult events in their lives, from aging to dying. That is among the key findings in an international study from scholars at four major universities.

The finding suggests that science has not supplanted religion, and the two coexist for billions of people around the world because while science can explain many things, it “really isn’t very good” at supplying answers to some of life’s most difficult questions, said psychologist Cristine H. Legare of the University of Texas, Austin, in a telephone interview.

Chief among those questions may be simply this: Why me?

Legare, lead author of a study published in the current issue of Child Development, went to South Africa, where she had conducted earlier research on the AIDS epidemic, to see if people there still turn to witchcraft to explain the disease that has devastated much of that country. The answer, quite clearly, is yes, especially among older adults.

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