Research finds link between religion, closed-mindedness

By Linda Wilkins

Baylor psychology students are continuing research into the effects of religion on interactions between people that indicates religion may lead to more closed-minded interactions.

Dr. Wade Rowatt, associate professor and director of the Ph.D. graduate program in psychology, is coordinating the studies along with several Baylor graduates and undergraduates.

Doctoral candidate Megan Johnson is working on the studies as part of her dissertation.

Johnson said previous studies have shown that “in-groups,” otherwise known as a group of people who have multiple characteristics in common, tend to have prejudice toward “out-groups,” which are groups that do not share the same characteristics as the people in the in-groups.

In the studies so far, Rowatt said religion appears to be influential in the interactions between the in-groups and the out-groups. He said religious influences tend to increase the bonds within the in-group and the out-groups are further ostracized.

The studies examine how religion affects these interactions, and the researchers conduct the study by priming. Priming is planting a subliminal message in someone’s mind.

Each of these studies examines an aspect of the effects of religion on interactions between in-groups and out-groups, Johnson said. One study examines a person’s behavior after they are primed and the other examines their aggression.

In this study, Johnson said she hopes the outcome will be the same as the outcomes of similar studies, because similar results would validate the outcomes.

“We wanted to break apart that relationship between religion and outlook,” Johnson said. Johnson said a person’s religion can affect their outlook on others who violate their religious values.

These two studies are an extension of a study that was published this past fall.

This published study focused on the hypothesis that priming a person with religious words leads to a more negative attitude against the out-groups, Johnson said.

For the first part of the study, the participants answered questions about their feelings toward out-groups. The students in this study were primed with a computer test that had either religious words or non-religious words, Johnson said.

Students involved with the study did not know which test they were given, she said. The students then rated various groups based on their feelings toward the group on a scale of zero to 100. The students were not aware of whether the group they were rating was considered an in-group or an out-group.

For this study, the out-groups were gay males, Muslims and atheists — groups that are generally thought by Christian groups to be value-violating, she said. The in-groups were Christians and heterosexuals. This study found that students who were primed with religious words were more negative toward out-groups than the students primed with non-religious words.