Date of Degree
Curtis D. Hardin
Anti-atheist prejudice in the U.S. is socially accepted and rife—and not just because most Americans are religious. This research suggests that hostility toward atheists is related in part to protecting parental relationships. To the extent that they are established within parental relationships, shared reality theory implies that religious beliefs and associated attitudes will be psychologically defended to the extent that the parental relationships engaged are strong, healthy, and vital (Magee & Hardin, 2010; see also Hardin & Higgins, 1996). Three experiments examined the regulation of anti-atheist prejudice in the defense and protection of religious shared realities with parents, as implied by shared reality theory, and used parental attachment as an indicator of the strength and vitality of the parental relationship. The first two experiments explored parental attachment in the regulation of automatic anti-atheist prejudice during social interactions. In Experiment 1, automatic attitudes toward atheists were assessed with a subliminal sequential priming task in a social tuning paradigm in which the experimenter casually mentioned he was an atheist, or did not (e.g., Lowery et al., 2001). Interacting with an atheist reduced automatic anti-atheist prejudice among those with low parental attachment and, if anything, increased automatic anti-atheist prejudice among those with high parental attachment. Experiment 2 tested the causal role of parental attachment by experimentally manipulating parental attachment with an essay task and found complementary results: Interacting with an atheist reduced automatic anti-atheist prejudice among those with low manipulated parental attachment, increased automatic anti-atheist prejudice among those with high manipulated parental attachment, and did not affect automatic anti-atheist prejudice among those in a nonparental salience comparison condition. Experiment 3 manipulated the mere cognitive salience of the concept ‘atheist’ (in the absence of relationship demands) via a subliminal prime word task. Subliminal exposure to the word atheist reduced explicit anti-atheist prejudice among those with low parental attachment and low parental religious shared reality, but not among those with high parental attachment or high parental religious shared reality. This research suggests that when religious people interact with atheists (or think about atheists) anti-atheist prejudice is activated and then regulated by parental attachment.
Magee, Michael W., "The Interpersonal Foundations of Anti-Atheist Prejudice" (2011). CUNY Academic Works.