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People who don’t believe in evolution are more likely to hold prejudice and discriminatory views towards minority communities, a scientific study suggests.

Data that informed the results were collected through surveys conducted across 46 countries and found a link between beliefs around evolution and perceptions of “outsider” groups.

The study was reported Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and found that the correlation was consistent across countries they gathered data from – these included the United States, 19 Eastern European countries, 25 Muslim-majority countries and Israel.

Speaking to IFLScience, the study authors explained: “We found that disbelief in the theory that humans evolved from other animals was associated with prejudice, racist attitudes, and support for discriminatory behaviours towards human outgroups, particularly minorities (based on their racial, religious, or sexual identity).

“This correlation was generally small but was consistent across different countries and cultures.”

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The lead researchers of the study, Stylianos Syropoulos and Dr Uri Lifshin put forward two hypotheses for our ability to accept and reject other groups.

The first of these is the social identity theory. This theory places significance on our shared humanity. The theory of evolution suggests we are all descended from animals, giving us all a group identity that we can embrace others into, even if they are deemed as a minority.

On the other hand, the terror management theory can repel us from allowing others close to us into our community. Different factors of our identity like religion, nationality and culture and our inclusion in these groups can help protect us from the question of our mortality, so we hold on to those to whom we can relate for self-preservation.

The team explained: “Classical social psychology suggests that finding our common humanity and seeing how our outgroups are also human, like us, is the way to reduce bigotry and dehumanization of outgroups.

“While this is true, this solution isn’t perfect, because it still ignores the fact that we are in essence animals.

“So perhaps the key is to be able to acknowledge our shared animal origin – that we are all animals, ingroup and outgroup alike, and thus be less depended on our cultural and national identities which might further attenuate intergroup differences, eventually reducing our proneness to prejudice and intergroup conflict.”

But, while the teams have discovered that believing in evolution is linked with higher tolerance of otherness, history has shown us that it can also go the other way with the eugenics movement.

Scientists from the study are now working to to see if we can reduce bigotry through the understanding of evolution.

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