The research involved six studies conducted with 350 American adults and nearly 420 university students in Canada. The study posed a number of hypothetical questions and scenarios to participants. In one of the studies, participants presented with description of an untrustworthy person found it to be more representative of an atheist than Muslims, Jews, gays and feminists.
Gervais, according to RichardDawkins.net
, said that the only group the participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists.
Doctoral student Will Gervais, according to Science Daily
, co-authored the study with University of British Columbia
Associate Prof. Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff of the University of Oregon. The study published in the online Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
said the attitude of religious people to atheists has a significant impact on their welfare in society and often limits their job opportunities.
According to Science Daily
, Gervais observed:
"Where there are religious majorities (that is,in most of the world), atheists are among the least trusted people. With more than half a billion atheists worldwide, this prejudice has the potential to affect a substantial number of people."
Gervais said that the negative attitude to atheists is striking since atheist are not a "coherent, visible or powerful social group." According to Gervais:
“People are willing to hire an atheist for a job that is perceived as low-trust, for instance as a waitress. But when hiring for a high-trust job like daycare worker, they were like, nope, not going to hire an atheist for that job."
The researchers concluded that:
"Outward displays of belief in God may be viewed as a proxy for trustworthiness, particularly by religious believers who think that people behave better if they feel that God is watching them. While atheists may see their disbelief as a private matter on a metaphysical issue, believers may consider atheists' absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty."
reports that the study was significantly motivated by a Gallup poll survey which found that only 45 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified atheist as president. Gallup showed that this figure was the lowest among several hypothetical minority candidates, implying that atheists were the least trusted group in America.
The researchers emphasized, however, that distrust was the major factor in the prejudice against atheists, not hatred or disgust. The researchers said that identifying distrust as the major factor in the prejudice against atheists would help to combat it.
Atheists, however, do not return the hard feelings against them, the researchers say. According to Gervais, atheists tend to be indifferent to people's religious beliefs when assessing their trustworthiness:
“Atheists don’t necessarily favour other atheists over Christians or anyone else. They seem to think that religion is not an important signal for who you can trust."