People subconsciously stereotype atheists as more likely to be serial killers, but view them as open-minded, scientific, and fun at parties

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Research published in Social psychology and personality sciences suggests that people can have both positive and intensely negative stereotypes about a stigmatized group. The results suggest that people stereotype atheists as immoral – subconsciously believing that a serial killer is more likely to be an atheist than a religious person – while stereotyping atheists as more open-minded, scientific, and fun to be around. festivals.

For some time now, atheists have found themselves the object of many negative stereotypes. It is important to note that these stereotypes seem to imply a distrust of non-religious people to the extent that they are unconsciously seen as dangerous. This can lead to discrimination in some contexts – for example, atheists may be denied employment in childcare positions on the grounds that they are lacking in morality.

A study by Jordan W. Moon was motivated by the prospect that stereotypes are complex and that people can have negative and positive stereotypes about a group of people. Some groups may be seen as a threat in one context, but as an advantage in another. The researchers wanted to find out if people could have positive and negative stereotypes about atheists.

“Previous research on anti-atheist prejudice has shown so many negative stereotypes – atheists are associated with immorality, narcissism, etc. Explained Moon, a doctoral student at Arizona State University. “Even atheists tend to show a certain level of intuitive distrust of atheists. Yet many people speak openly about their disbelief in public, and there are organizations that promote disbelief. My co-authors and I thought that, at least in some contexts, being an atheist should be viewed in a positive way.

A first experiment allowed a sample of participants to read several vignettes describing people with certain positive or negative traits. These traits were open-minded / closed-minded, scientific / unscientific, and fun / not fun. After reading each thumbnail, participants were shown two statements and asked to choose the one that was most likely. In the atheist condition, two examples of responses were “Henry is a teacher” and “Henry is a teacher and is an atheist. In the religious condition, two responses were “Henry is a teacher” and “Henry is a teacher and believes in God”. By asking the questions in this way, the researchers exploited the participants’ unconscious stereotypes without explicitly addressing them.

Moon and colleagues found that participants tended to associate positive valence traits (open-minded, scientific, and fun) with atheists and associate negative valence traits (closed-minded, unscientific, not fun). to religious people. It is important to note that the effect more or less held, whether the respondent was religious or not.

A second experiment using vignettes again revealed that atheists are associated with science and open-mindedness. The experiment further revealed that a vignette depicting the horrific actions of a serial killer was more likely to be associated with an atheist than a religious person. Notably, it suggested that the subjects harbored extremely negative stereotypes about atheists, while at the same time endorsing positive stereotypes about them.

In a final study, researchers found evidence that there are contexts in which people positively discriminate against atheists. Participants tended to choose “an atheist” over a “religious person” when asked which party they would prefer to attend, whom they would prefer to discuss politics with, and whom they would prefer to have as their scientific tutor. Interestingly, while people of low and average religiosity showed a strong bias towards atheists for all three scenarios, people high in religiosity preferred religious people for scientific tutoring and political discussions, and showed no bias. towards religious people or atheists for party guests.

“Even though there are prejudices against atheists and many negative stereotypes, it is not necessarily the case that atheists are viewed negatively in all ways. Atheism doesn’t necessarily improve perceptions of trustworthiness, but it can make people more fun, open-minded, or scientific. In these contexts, people are probably more open to interacting with atheists, ”Moon told PsyPost.

Moon and his team see their study as evidence that people can simultaneously approve of positive and negative stereotypes towards target groups. Still, the researchers note a limit to their study – while being fun, open-minded, and scientific tend to be seen as positive traits, it is possible that they represent negative traits in some contexts. For example, being fun can be associated with short-term mating and therefore be interpreted as a negative trait by some religious people. The question remains open whether these “positive” stereotypes are really in favor of atheists.

“It’s an open question whether these results apply to highly religious people – our results were mixed for people who reported high levels of religiosity,” Moon said. “The perceptions of atheists are also almost certainly different outside the United States, where it can be more or less normative to be non-religious.”

The study, “Is There Anything Good About Atheists?” Exploring Positive and Negative Stereotypes of the Religious and Nonreligious ”, was written by Jordan W. Moon, Jaimie Krems and Adam Cohen.


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