Awe-inspiring scenes such as the Grand Canyon and the Northern Lights inspire people to believe in God and the supernatural, researchers have found.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, a team from Claremont McKenna College in California and the University of Southern California found that people were more likely to believe in the supernatural after watching scenes from the BBC's Planet Earth nature documentary series.

Scientists believe people are more likely to believe in the supernatural after watching sublime scenes because they feel the need to make sense of the world around them.

Researcher Piercarlo Valdeso said: "Many historical accounts of religious epiphanies and revelations seem to involve the experience of being awe-struck by the beauty, strength or size of a divine being, and these experiences change the way people understand and think about the world.

"We wanted to test the exact opposite prediction: It's not that the presence of the supernatural elicits awe, it's that awe elicits the perception of the presence of the supernatural."

Planet Earth
Participants were shown clips from Planet Earth (BBC)

Study participants were shown either scenes from Planet Earth or neutral clips from news interviews.

They were then asked how much awe they felt while watching the films, and whether they believed world events took place because of either God's or another non-human entity's plan.

People who watched Planet Earth were more likely to believe in supernatural control and God compared with those who watched news interviews.

Researchers also found that participants who watched Planet Earth were increasingly intolerant of uncertainty, which they believe could explain why they were more inclined to believe in God and the supernatural because they are unable to comprehend the events otherwise.

"The irony in this is that gazing upon things that we know to be formed by natural causes, such as the jaw-dropping expanse of the Grand Canyon, pushes us to explain them as the product of supernatural causes," Valdesolo said.

While for many people scenes from nature increase the belief in God, the researchers said they also push some people to explain the world through scientific means - as the experience pushes them to find answers about these events.