Thursday, February 26, 2015

SPSP 2015: The world thinks that atheists are immoral

At the self and identity pre-conference this morning Will Gervais presented a series of studies (available open access right here) suggesting that people seem to automatically associate atheism with a lack of moral character.

In the studies, participants would be shown a description of various immoral actions that included hurting innocent animals, incest, treating others unfairly, and disrespecting authority. Following these vignettes participants were instructed to assess the extent that the offender was either a "teacher" or a "teacher who does not believe in God." Notice that the category teacher should, by definition, be more probable because the inclusive set of teachers includes atheists and non-atheists. Nevertheless, participants tended to overestimate the extent that these immoral actors didn't believe in God (treating the two categories as nearly equal). Moreover, this tendency to associate atheism with immorality was stronger than associations of other religious groups to immoral acts, as well as other stigmatized groups (such as teachers who happen to be gay).

The talk concluded with some striking evidence suggesting that the association between atheism and immorality persists across many cultures high (United Arab Emirates) and low (Czech Republic) in religiosity. The findings suggest that our expectations for others moral actions hinge upon beliefs in their religious affiliations.

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