Atheists are nicer to Christians compared to the other way around if their religious identity is known, study claims

Atheists behave 'impartially toward ingroup and outgroup partners,' while Christians demonstrate 'an ingroup bias'

Jon Sharman
Monday 01 July 2019 16:47 BST
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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 and PhD student, Colleen Cowgill, told the PsyPost news website that previous research had demonstrated that “the general population in America tends to stereotype atheists as being immoral and untrustworthy”.

She added that many atheists found this reputation “distressing”.

“My primary interest was in how atheists themselves respond to these negative stereotypes,” she said. “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 emphasise their American identity when it is threatened.

“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.”

Whether this was specifically due to the wish to impress was not certain, she added.

The effect was “eliminated” when participants were told their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, were being kept a secret from their partners, the study found.

Earlier this year a study in Canada found a majority—76 per cent—of people did not believe being religious made someone a better citizen.

And more than half of those polled believed faith did more harm than good.

In Britain, more people now profess to be nonreligious than Christian, according to research, with deconversion, or the religious losing their faith, deemed a “major factor”.

It came as only 72 per cent of UK Christians said they believed in the resurrection of Christ—the central tenet of their faith. More than a tenth of “active” Christians told ComRes they did not believe there was an afterlife.

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