Religious People Like Other Religious People; The Non-Religious Don’t Judge

More fuel for the mindlessly intense “Who’s better, atheists or Christians?” war:

While research has shown that religious individuals are perceived as being more moral than the nonreligious, the present studies suggest that these findings are affected by in-group bias. Participants low and high in religious fundamentalism (RF) were asked to form an impression of a target’s moral and social dimensions. The target’s religious identity was presented either explicitly (in Studies 1 and 2) or implicitly (Study 3). Participants high in RF consistently rated the religious target more favorably than the nonreligious target on both dimensions. In contrast, LF individuals’ morality ratings did not differ as a function of target religiosity across all 3 studies.

The study also found that although religious people express a preference to socially affiliate with other religious people, in two of the three studies non-religious people expressed no preference for befriending the non-religious.

It would be interesting to see if these results disappear over the medium to long-term in a location where religion is declining. As the size of the religious in-group shrinks, the costs of discriminating against non-members will rise.  The reverse should happen for the non-religious. Over time this could lead the religious to become less biased and the non-religious to become more biased.

For now, the problem in America is that the religious in-group tends to be pretty large. So large that it’s hard to run for public office if you don’t pledge allegiance to that in-group. The result is a pool of potential leaders who are less qualified than they should be.


Galen, L., Smith, C., Knapp, N., & Wyngarden, N. (2011). Perceptions of Religious and Nonreligious Targets: Exploring the Effects of Perceivers’ Religious Fundamentalism Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41 (9), 2123-2143 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00810.x


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