The study, led by Arizona State University’s Jordan W. Moon, explored said stereotypes of “the religious and nonreligious,” and found that while atheists are occasionally considered “threats” in certain circumstances, their non-religious principles were seen advantageously in others.
“Past research on anti-atheist prejudice has shown so many negative stereotypes — atheists are associated with immorality [and] narcissism,” Moon, lead researcher, told PsyPost. “Even atheists tend to show some level of intuitive distrust toward atheists. Yet many people are open about their disbelief in public, and there are organizations that promote disbelief. My coauthors and I reasoned that, at least in some contexts, being an atheist must be viewed positively.”
For the study, participants read descriptions of people with certain “positive” and “negative” traits. These characteristics included open-minded viruses close-close-minded, scientific or non-scientific, and fun or not fun. Participants were then shown statements about the characters and asked to choose which was most likely. For example, one response was “Henry is a teacher” and “Henry is a teacher and is an atheist.”
Moon and his team concluded that participants often associated the positive traits — open-minded, scientific and fun — with atheists, while the negative traits — close-minded, non-scientific, and not fun — with more religious people.
The next experiment found that vignettes illustrating the disturbing behaviours of serial killers were far more commonly associated with atheists.
That said, when it came time to query participants as to whose party they would rather attend, those “low and average in religiosity” strongly preferred atheists. Participants also demonstrated a preference for the non-religious when it came to picking someone with whom to discuss politics, and to tutor them in science.
“Even though there is prejudice toward atheists, and many negative stereotypes, it is not necessarily the case that atheists are viewed negatively in every way,” Moon said. “Atheism might not necessarily boost perceptions of trustworthiness, but it might make people be viewed as more fun, open-minded, or scientific. In those contexts, people are probably more open to interacting with atheists.”