A protestor demonstrates against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Germany, in Erfurt September 23, 2011.
Credits: REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
Atheists are almost universally perceived as untrustworthy, and only rapists rate as low, a new study has found.
"Where there are religious majorities -- that is, in most of the world -- atheists are among the least trusted people," said lead author Will Gervais, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of British Columbia. "With more than half a billion atheists worldwide, this prejudice has the potential to affect a substantial number of people."
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, combines information collected from six different surveys.
One, a Gallup poll in the U.S., found only 45% of American respondents would vote for a qualified atheist president, and rated atheists as the group that clashes most with their vision of America. What's more, many Americans say they disapprove of their children marrying atheists.
In another survey of university students in Canada, researchers described hypothetical situations in which someone does something untrustworthy, such as pretending to leave insurance information after backing into a car, then asked participants to guess if the person was a Christian, a Muslim, a Jewish person, a gay man, a feminist, a rapist or an atheist. Only rapists were deemed as untrustworthy as atheists.
Respondents said they are also more likely to hire a religious person for any job that requires a high level of trust.
"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," said Ara Norenzayan, co-author of the study.
"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 co-operation and honesty."