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APS: “Reminders of Secular Authority Reduce Believers’ Distrust of Atheists”

Atheists have long been distrusted, in part because they do not believe that a watchful, judging god monitors their behavior. However, in many parts of the world, secular institutions such as police, judges, and courts are also potent sources of social monitoring that encourage prosocial behavior.

Can reminding people of a secular authority — such as the police — reduce distrust of atheists? Participants viewed a video about a person’s first trip to Vancouver or a video about police effectiveness in Vancouver. They then filled out a survey measuring their distrust of atheists and other outgroups such as Muslim and gay populations. Those who viewed the police effectiveness video were less distrustful of atheists than those who had seen the general Vancouver visit video. The videos did not affect participant’s general prejudice toward other groups. These findings suggest that reminders of authority do indeed reduce distrust of some outgroups, illustrating the multidimensionality of prejudice.

What sort of implications may this research have for activism? Anarchists in particular tend to be distrusted by those who do not politically identify with anarchism. It would be interesting to see if similar findings could be found in the political spectrum. Could reminders of police or other authorities reduce distrust of anarchists or radical activists? It sounds plausible. Perhaps we should project videos of police on buildings during protests so that onlookers don’t feel threatened or become hostile to protestors. What if this affect could also take place in the perceptions of police, when reminded of higher authorities, such as the FBI? What if this is the holy grail of getting left alone during protests?

WE’VE SOLVED ALL THE PROBLEMS! Projectors everywhere!



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