by Erin Blakemore
Though the number of people who identify as atheists has risen in recent years, atheists still are viewed as untrustworthy or frightening by many Americans. Now, new research might offer an explanation, writes LiveScience’s Stephanie Pappas — atheists can trigger death-related thoughts, which can cause people to cling even more tightly to their religious values.
Pappas reports on a new study that shows atheists are seen as an “existential threat,” a threat that fuels anti-atheist sentiment. Researchers interviewed a group of 202 students from diverse religious backgrounds. One group was given questions about death like “Please describe the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you” and “Write down, as specifically as you can, what you think will happen physically when you die,” while the other was asked about extreme pain.
Then, the researchers asked all participants about their attitudes towards both Quakers and atheists. While people seemed to distrust atheists across the board, the group who had been reminded of their own mortality was much more negative.
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