Date of Publication
Dr. Jennifer Ratcliff, Associate Professor, Psychology
The predominant explanation for anti-atheist prejudice posits that atheists are stigmatized because they are perceived as morally threatening. However, recent work suggests that prejudice against atheists may actually ensue from the ostensible existential threat posed by the group. According to terror management theory, humans have an innate fear of death that is attenuated by religious beliefs. These creeds are reflected and reinforced by specific moral values. Because atheists do not believe in a deity, they may be perceived as concurrently lacking such morals and posing a significant existential threat. The current study tested the impact of priming mortality salience—subtle exposure to death-related stimuli—on perceived atheist immorality and anti-atheist prejudice. Seventy-eight students from an introductory psychology course participated for course credit. Participants were randomly assigned to write about their own death or a control topic. Those in both conditions completed measures of perceived atheist immorality and anti-atheist prejudice. The primary hypothesis that individuals who were primed to think about death would perceive atheists as posing a greater moral threat and, consequently, express greater prejudice against them than those in the control condition would was not supported. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.
Brand, Peter, "The Morality of Mortality: A Terror Management Explanation for the Immoral Atheist Stereotype and Anti-Atheist Prejudice" (2020). Senior Honors Theses. 286.