For centuries, human evolution and prejudice have been closely connected. Darwin’s theory of evolution suggested that humans are not only related through common descent, but that there are also certain evolutionary advantages of certain groups compared to others. Therefore, it is not surprising that evolution eventually became a basis for many forms of bigotry and bias.
A recent research paper examined the relationship between disbelief in human evolution and prejudice and racism. The article, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was authored by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Reichman University in Israel, and the University of Arizona in Tucson (Syropoulos et al., 2022).
The paper reported that disbelief in human evolution was associated with higher levels of prejudice, racist attitudes, and support of discriminatory behavior against Blacks, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community in the U.S., as well as higher biases within a person’s group, prejudicial attitudes toward people in different groups and less support for conflict resolution across the globe.
The researchers hypothesized that belief in evolution would tend to increase people’s identification with all humanity due to the common ancestry and would lead to less prejudicial attitudes. “People who perceive themselves as more similar to animals are also people who tend to have more pro-social or positive attitudes toward outgroup members or people from stigmatized and marginalized backgrounds.”, argued lead author Stylianos Syropoulos, a Ph.D. candidate in the War and Peace Lab explains.
To test their hypothesis, they analyzed data from the American General Social Survey (GSS), the Pew Research Center, and three online crowdsourced samples. Their analyses controlled for factors such as education, political ideology, religiosity, cultural identity, and scientific knowledge examining the hypothesis concerning the correlations between various degrees of evolutionism.
The results showed that believing in evolution related to less prejudice regardless of the group one belonged to and independently from belief or lack thereof in God or any particular religion. The researchers also found that this effect was present in all major political systems. Their findings suggest that “belief in evolution may be an important factor for promoting intergroup harmony and reducing intergroup conflict.”
The paper is an interesting and important contribution to the literature on human evolution, prejudice, and racism. It provides empirical evidence for the link between disbelief in human evolution and greater prejudice and racism across different contexts and cultures. It also offers a possible explanation for why belief in evolution may foster more positive attitudes toward outgroup members.
However, the paper also has some limitations that need to be addressed in future research. For example, the paper relied mostly on self-report measures of belief in evolution, prejudice, and racism, which may be subject to social desirability bias or inaccurate recall.
Moreover, the paper did not examine the causal direction of the relationship between disbelief in human evolution and prejudice and racism. It is possible that other factors, such as personality traits or cognitive styles, may influence both disbelief in human evolution and prejudice and racism.
Finally, the paper did not explore the potential mechanisms or moderators that may mediate or moderate the relationship between disbelief in human evolution and prejudice and racism. For instance, how does disbelief in human evolution affect one’s moral reasoning or empathy? How does one’s social identity or worldview moderate the effect of disbelief in human evolution on prejudice and racism? These are some of the questions that future research should address to advance our understanding of this topic further.