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Disbelief in human evolution coupled with greater prejudice and racism

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A disbelief in human evolution was associated with higher levels of prejudice, racist attitudes, and support for discriminatory behavior toward black people, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community in the United States, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Similarly, globally—in 19 Eastern European countries, 25 Muslim countries, and Israel—low belief in evolution was associated with higher levels of prejudice within a person’s group, biased attitudes toward people in different groups, and lower support for conflict resolution.

The results supported the hypothesis of lead author Stylianos Syropoulos, a Ph.D. Candidate in senior author Bernhard Leidner’s War and Peace Lab, Associate Professor of Social Psychology. They collaborated with first co-author Uri Lifshin at Reichman University in Israel and co-authors Jeff Greenberg and Dylan Horner at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Researchers theorized that belief in evolution would tend to increase people’s identification with all of humanity due to shared ancestry and lead to less biased attitudes.

“People who are more animal-like are also people who are more likely to have prosocial or positive attitudes towards members of outgroups or people from stigmatized and marginalized backgrounds,” explains Syropoulos. “In this study, we were interested in whether the belief in evolution also has a similar effect because it would reinforce this belief that we are more similar to animals.”

In eight studies spanning different regions of the world, the researchers analyzed data from the American General Social Survey (GSS), the Pew Research Center, and three online crowd-sourced samples. In testing their hypothesis about the associations of different levels of evolutionary belief, they considered education, political ideology, religiosity, cultural identity, and scientific evidence.

“We found the same results every time, which basically means that belief in evolution is associated with less bias, regardless of the group you’re in, and you control all of these alternative explanations,” says Syropoulos.

For example, religious beliefs, like political ideology, were measured separately from a belief or disbelief in evolution, the researchers note. “Regardless of whether one views religion as an important part of one’s life, belief in evolution relates to less prejudice regardless of belief or lack thereof in God or a particular religion,” says Syropoulos.

Adds Leidner: “This whole effect and pattern seems to be present in all major political systems. It’s a very human phenomenon no matter where you are in the world.”

The researchers note that Darwin’s 19th-century theory of evolution was cited to spread racism, prejudice and homophobia, in part through the phrase “survival of the fittest,” used to describe the process of natural selection.

“There have been theoretical reports that predict the opposite of what we found, so it was exciting for us to show that this is actually not the case, that the opposite is true, and that belief in evolution is quite positive appears to be having an impact,” Leidner says.

The US-based study included data from 1993, 1994, 2000, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 – the years when the GSS asked Americans about their belief in evolution and their attitudes towards immigrants , blacks, interviewed , affirmative action, LGBTQ people and other social issues.

The data analysis unfailingly showed that disbelief in human evolution is the driving factor and most consistent predictor of bias compared to other relevant constructs.

In the Israeli study, people with higher beliefs in evolution were more likely to support peace among Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews. In the study of countries in the Islamic world, belief in evolution was associated with fewer prejudices against Christians and Jews. And in the study, set in Eastern Europe, where Orthodox Christians are in the majority, belief in evolution was associated with fewer prejudices against Gypsies, Jews and Muslims.

Syropoulos posits that belief in evolution can widen people’s “moral circle”, leading to the feeling that “we have more in common than things that are different”.

The results also suggest that “teaching evolution appears to have side effects that could lead to a better or more harmonious society,” Leidner adds.

The next step, the researchers say, is to study how evolution is taught in the classroom and work towards developing models to study and amplify the positive effects.


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More information:
Stylianos Syropoulos et al, Bigotry and the human-animal divide: (Dis)belief in human evolution and bigoted attitudes in different cultures., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2022). DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000391

Provided by the University of Massachusetts Amherst

citation: Disbelief in human evolution linked to greater prejudice and racism (2022 April 4) Retrieved April 4, 2022 from

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https://phys.org/news/2022-04-disbelief-human-evolution-linked-greater.html Disbelief in human evolution coupled with greater prejudice and racism

Russell Falcon

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