Nav: Home

Researchers examine social identity threat and religion in the US

November 14, 2017

When people feel targeted because of their religious identity, they can experience a psychological threat that may undermine psychological well-being and increase prejudice toward other groups, according to a new study by Penn State psychologists.

The findings, which appear online in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, suggest that in the United States, highly religious Protestants and religious minorities -- Jews and Muslims -- feel the most targeted for their religious group membership and religious beliefs. This perception, which the researchers term "religious threat," leads people to feel socially isolated, be less comfortable sharing their religion with others and to be more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes towards others.

"American society is in a downward spiral of interreligious intolerance," said Michael Pasek, a doctoral student in social psychology and the lead investigator on the research. "When people see their religion or religious beliefs mocked in the public domain or criticized by political leaders, these experiences signal to members of entire religious groups that they don't belong."

The first large study examining social identity threat and religion in the United States, the survey recruited 970 participants from 44 states and the District of Columbia. Participants were between 18 and 88 years old and were demographically diverse. The survey included questions about participants' religion and religiosity, as well as a host of psychological measures assessing the degree to which individuals felt targeted, stigmatized or threatened because of their religion. Measured psychological outcomes included belonging, identity concealment, and intergroup attitudes.

Survey results also revealed that highly religious people feel heightened threat. This was particularly true for Christians. Among those sampled, 46 percent of highly religious Protestants reported that it was "somewhat" to "very" true that they felt targeted because of their religion. In contrast, only 2 percent of Protestants low in religiosity felt targeted. "Our findings suggest that religiosity itself is highly stigmatized in American society," said Pasek.

Interestingly, among highly religious respondents, Protestants reported feeling just as targeted as Muslims and Jews did, though there may be different causes of religious threat for these groups, the researchers suggest. For religious minorities, the threat may emanate from prejudice and discrimination, they said, whereas for Christians, the threat may come from concerns that their status and influence is dropping as the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian drops. No matter the cause, the psychological effects of religious threat were generally consistent, they added.

According to the researchers, religious threat experiences are likely to increase as the nation becomes more religiously diverse and as secularism becomes more mainstream. This may explain why many religious Christians express concern that there is a war on religion in the United States, they said. It also may help explain why hostility towards religious minority groups is increasing.

"One takeaway from our research is that the public discourse around religion and other identity groups matters," said Jonathan Cook, assistant professor of psychology who worked on the study. "If the United States is to continue to be a place of religious freedom and tolerance, important conversations need to happen that acknowledge the changing religious landscape of the American population, without fanning the flames of religious intolerance."
-end-


Penn State

Related Psychology Articles:

Study examines state of social, personality psychology research
University of Illinois at Chicago researchers conducted two studies to examine the state and quality of social and personality research and how practices have changed, if at all.
Understanding decisions: The power of combining psychology and economics
A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows how collaborations between psychologists and economists lead to better understanding of such decisions than either discipline can on its own.
BU researcher receives prestigious clinical psychology award
Denise Sloan, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, has been named the 2017 recipient of the Toy Caldwell-Colbert Award for Distinguished Educator in Clinical Psychology from the Society of Clinical Psychology at the American Psychological Association.
Educational psychology: Finding the fun in maths
New work by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers on students' emotional attitudes to mathematics confirms that positive emotions and success at learning in math mutually reinforce each other.
OU psychology professor recipient of early career impact award
A University of Oklahoma psychology professor, Edward Cokely, is the recipient of a 2017 Early Career Impact Award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences.
Psychology explains how to win an Oscar
If you want to win an Oscar it is best to be an American actor in a film that portrays American culture.
Psychology: Playful people are at an advantage
Adults can positively utilize their inclination towards playfulness in many situations.
Springer launches three new book series in cognitive psychology
Starting in January 2017, Springer will add three new book series to its cognitive psychology portfolio: Computational Approaches to Cognition and Perception, SpringerBriefs in Theoretical Advances in Psychology, and SpringerBriefs in Psychology and Cultural Developmental Science.
Psychology paper authors range from Dr. Phil to the Dalai Lama
Steven Jay Lynn, distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Psychological Clinic at Binghamton University, and Scott O.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Psychology Reading:

Psychology
by Rose M. Spielman (Author)

Psychology, 11th Edition
by David G. Myers (Author), C. Nathan DeWall (Author)

Psych 101: Psychology Facts, Basics, Statistics, Tests, and More! (Adams 101)
by Paul Kleinman (Author)

The Psychology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained
by DK (Author)

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
by Carol S. Dweck (Author)

Myers' Psychology for AP
by David G. Myers (Author)

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition
by Robert B. Cialdini (Author)

Barron's AP Psychology, 8th Edition: with Bonus Online Tests
by Allyson Weseley Ed.D. (Author), Robert McEntarffer Ph.D. (Author)

Psychology in Your Life (Second Edition)
by Sarah Grison (Author), Michael Gazzaniga (Author)

Exploring Psychology
by David G. Myers (Author), C. Nathan DeWall (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Dying Well
Is there a way to talk about death candidly, without fear ... and even with humor? How can we best prepare for it with those we love? This hour, TED speakers explore the beauty of life ... and death. Guests include lawyer Jason Rosenthal, humorist Emily Levine, banker and travel blogger Michelle Knox, mortician Caitlin Doughty, and entrepreneur Lux Narayan.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#492 Flint Water Crisis
This week we dig into the Flint water crisis: what happened, how it got so bad, what turned the tide, what's still left to do, and the mix of science, politics, and activism that are still needed to finish pulling Flint out of the crisis. We spend the hour with Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, a physician, scientist, activist, the founder and director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, and author of the book "What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City".