The Social Cost of Atheism: How Perceived Religiosity Influences Moral Appraisal

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Social psychologists have found that stereotypes correlate with moral judgments about agents and actions. The most commonly studied stereotypes are race/ethnicity and gender. But atheists compose another stereotype, one with its own ignominious history in the Western world, and yet, one about which very little is known. This project endeavored to further our understanding of atheism as a social stereotype. Specifically, we tested whether people with non-religious commitments were stereotypically viewed as less moral than people with religious commitments. We found that participants’ (both Christian and atheist) moral appraisals of atheists were more negative than those of Christians who performed the same moral and immoral actions. They also reported immoral behavior as more (internally and externally) consistent for atheists, and moral behavior more consistent for Christians. The results contribute to research at the intersection of moral theory, moral psychology, and psychology of religion.



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  • Study 1, participants’ internal state and moral status judgments for immoral behavior:
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  • Study 1, differences in judgments for immoral behavior:
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  • Study 1, participants’ internal state and moral status judgments for moral behavior:
    View in gallery
  • Study 1, differences in judgments for moral behavior:
    View in gallery
  • Study 2, participants’ internal state and moral status judgments for immoral behavior:
    View in gallery
  • Study 2, differences in judgments for immoral behavior:
    View in gallery
  • Study 2, participants’ internal state and moral status judgments for moral behavior:
    View in gallery
  • Study 1, differences in judgments for moral behavior:
    View in gallery


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