Are Nonbelievers Perceived as Less Moral?

March 12, 2013

You've seen the headlines: the nonreligious are perceived as less moral (less trustworthy, etc) that the religious. 

Well, not so fast. Are such studies geting confirmed? The journal Secularity and Nonreligion has published fresh research that can't find a bias against nonbelievers.  

This new article, "Non-Theists Are No Less Moral Than Theists: Some Preliminary Results" by Justin Didyoung, Eric Charles, and Nicholas Rowland, has this abstract:

"The longstanding stereotype that non-theists are less moral than theists is not empirically supported. To test this commonplace assumption, 114 undergraduate participants were evaluated to draw comparisons about religious identity and altruism levels. Participants were placed into one of two groups, theists or non-theists. The theist group was then further divided: weakly religious, moderately religious, and highly religious. Non-theists and theists as a whole, as well as theist subgroup assessments, were compared. Data were collected through self-report surveys. Additionally, to test moral decision-making abilities, participants answered questions based on situational dilemmas. Using Kohlberg’s coding schema, scores were assigned for the participant’s global moral reasoning rather than for the content of their answers. Using independent groups t-test, ANOVA, and post-hoc tests,our findings suggest no support for the existence of the stereotype that non-theists are less moral than theists. Religious identity did not conclusively determine whether or not an individual was more moral or more altruistic."

You can read the study online. What do you think? 

Comments:

#1 ZachV (Guest) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 at 3:04pm

Well, I can see one issue already: “114 undergraduate participants were evaluated.”

There are stereotypes that exist against college kids too, but I do not think it’s a stretch to say these are generally young, educated people - regardless of religious affiliation.

If we were to study elderly, high school graduates and lower attainment participants, I think we’d reach different conclusion in the study.

#2 Steve (Guest) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 at 5:27pm

I think it’s important to distinguish between “whether non-theists are actually less moral” and “whether society perceives non-theists as less moral”.

The way I’m reading it, it looks like the study is talking about the first one, whereas your headline seems to address the second.

#3 Nolan (Guest) on Friday March 15, 2013 at 3:19pm

Looking at the abstract, it does look like it has to do with whether non-theists are as moral or altruistic as theists, not whether they are perceived as such. The immorality is what is not supported, not the existence of the stereotype, which is assumed to exist.

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