5 years ago

Godless in essence? Psychological essentialism, theistic meta-beliefs, and anti-atheist prejudice

Atheists are widely distrusted, but research has only recently begun to explore why. As atheists and theists differ primarily regarding belief, we investigated U.S. theists' basic beliefs about (a)theism (i.e., theistic meta-beliefs) and how such beliefs are associated with anti-atheist prejudice. We operationalized theistic meta-beliefs with measures of psychological essentialism. In Study 1, items tapping essentialist beliefs about (a)theists loaded onto five distinct factors: Beliefs about the (i) categorical discreteness/uniformity of atheists, (ii) naturalness/universality of atheism, (iii) changeability of (a)theist belief, (iv) degree to which (a)theism becomes fixed during childhood, and (v) heritability of (a)theism. Beliefs about atheist naturalness and (especially) discreteness/uniformity predicted (negatively and positively, respectively) numerous measures of anti-atheist prejudice independent of several prejudice-relevant factors. Within the discreteness/uniformity factor, item-specific analyses revealed that beliefs about atheist category discreteness predicted anti-atheist prejudice more strongly than beliefs about atheist category uniformity, thus implicating perceived atheist-theist boundaries as central to anti-atheist prejudice. In Study 2, similar results emerged regardless of how non-theists were labeled (“atheist” or “non-believer”); moreover, belief that atheism poses a threat to religious cultural authority mediated the naturalness-prejudice and discreteness-prejudice associations. This research demonstrates the central role of essentialist beliefs in understanding theists' attitudes toward atheists.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S019188691730418X

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