Science: Atheists behave more fairly towards Christians than Christians behave towards atheists according to a study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
The study, titled: “Generous heathens? Reputational concerns and atheists’ behavior toward Christians in economic games,” found that
Christians demonstrated an ingroup bias towards other Christians in an economic game but atheists did not have an ingroup bias towards other atheists.
The Independent reports:
Atheists are more generous toward Christians than Christians are toward them, a new study has claimed.
Researchers at Ohio University asked participants to share monetary rewards with partners in a version of the “dictator game”, in which one person had no power to affect the division of the bounty.
When atheists were told of their partner’s religious beliefs, they “behaved impartially toward ingroup and outgroup partners,” the study’s authors wrote in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
However, “Christians consistently demonstrated an ingroup bias.”
Lead author of the study, Colleen Cowgill, explained to PsyPost the rationale behind her research:
The rise of the so-called ‘New Atheists’ about a decade ago coupled with the ongoing ‘culture wars’ between religious and secular groups in the United States has led atheists as a population to gain an unprecedented level of visibility in this country in recent years, even as their prevalence has only incrementally increased. This has sparked a particular interest in anti-atheist prejudice research in social psychology.
From this previous research, we know that the general population in America tends to stereotype atheists as being immoral and untrustworthy – a reputation that many atheists understandably find distressing. My primary interest was in how atheists themselves respond to these negative stereotypes.
Psychological research has demonstrated repeatedly that individuals facing negative stereotypes are not passive observers of this social landscape, but rather are impacted and react in a dynamic way to negative group-level judgments important to their identities…The psychological stress of fearing that your performance may confirm a negative stereotype about your group serves to limit the cognitive resources you have available for performing well on the task. Another example of this is people’s response to what is termed ‘identity threat,’ or the threat of being disparaged or discriminated against due to one’s group membership. We often see that negative stereotypes about a group can lead members of that group to behave in compensatory ways that ostensibly seek to disconfirm that stereotype, such as when American immigrants strive to emphasize their American identity when it is threatened.
This was the rationale behind my hypotheses stating that atheists’ behavior toward Christians in economic games might be different from Christians’ behavior toward atheists in economic games. In the same way that many White Americans are often stereotyped as racist and have consequently been shown by research to be particularly motivated to be liked by Black Americans during interracial interactions, I thought that atheists would be uniquely motivated to disconfirm negative stereotypes about their amorality or untrustworthy nature during interactions with Christians.
I chose to operationalize this through an economic game because I thought it would be an ideal paradigm to capture constructs like ‘generosity’ and ‘fairness,’ which can directly relate to ideas of morality and trustworthiness. Indeed, we found in multiple studies that our atheist participants behaved more fairly towards partners they believed were Christians than our Christians participants behaved towards partners they believed were atheists, which are results that appear to support the original hypotheses.
These effects disappeared when the participant’s own religious identity was concealed. Under those conditions, atheists and Christians demonstrated the same typically observed in-group bias, which rules out the possibility that the results could be entirely explained due to discrimination on the part of the Christians.
Bottom line: Research shows that atheists behave more fairly toward Christians than Christians behave toward atheists.