Atheists are perceived as fun, open-minded and scientific

Updated: Apr 17

Atheists, often stereotyped as immoral and untrustworthy, suffer discrimination due to widespread perception-problems. Many atheists, as a result are cowed into never going public about their NOT REALLY BELIEVING IN ANYTHING UNLESS BACKED BY EVIDENCE, especially if they hold public office.

A study by Jordan Moon et al. suggests that not all stereotypes about atheists are bad. The researchers investigated ‘intuitive stereotypes’ in a group of perceivers in the US through three experiments (N = 401, 398, 382). In experiment 1, participants, irrespective of their own religiosity, stereotyped atheists as fun, uninhibited, and carefree. In fact, not only were atheists positively stereotyped as fun, religious sapiens were negatively stereotyped as being 'not fun'. Ouch! Positive stereotype of atheists as open-minded and scientific was also found, except in perceivers who were very religious themselves.

Experiment 2 did not find evidence for stereotype of atheists as fun, but found evidence for stereotype of the religious as 'not fun'. Oh-dear. As in Exp. 1, atheists were perceived both as open-minded and scientific. Highly religious participants did not consider atheists fun or open-minded. Interestingly, people of faith intuitively perceived atheists as scientific this time. In both experiments, atheists were stereotyped as immoral and the religious as moral.

In Experiment 3, participants were presented with a choice between atheist and religious partners in stereotype-relevant scenarios. Among questions posed by researchers were - “Which would you choose if you wanted to attend a fun party: one thrown by an atheist, or by a religious person?” (Fun); “Which would you choose if you wanted to have an open-minded political conversation with someone: an atheist, or a religious person?” (Open-minded); and “Which would you choose if you wanted a tutor for a high-level college course in the physical sciences: an atheist, or a religious person?” (Scientific).

Participants with low or mean levels of religiosity preferred the atheist as partner in all three scenarios, while those high in religiosity preferred the religious as partner in an open-minded political conversation and as tutor for a science course. Among the highly religious perceivers, there was no clear bias toward religious or atheist party hosts.

Read more about the study here.