In the journal Nature Human Behavior, a study reports that more people believe that atheists are more likely to be immoral than those who do not.
Even other atheists share that belief, the study reported.
"Across the world, religious belief is intuitively viewed as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct," an international team of researchers wrote in the journal.
The study surveyed more than 3,000 people in 13 countries on five continents, ranging from "very secular" countries such as China and the Netherlands to countries with a large number of people of faith, such as the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and India.
"Atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous . . . people perceive belief in a god as a sufficient moral buffer to inhibit immoral behavior," the study reported.
The study gave participants a description of a fictional person who tortured animals, then grew up to be a murderer. Half the group was asked how likely it was that the person was an atheist, and the other asked how likely he was a person of faith, according to the journal.
People in the study were twice as likely to assume the fictional person was an atheist, the journal said.
"Entrenched moral suspicion of atheists suggests that religion’s powerful influence on moral judgments persists, even among non-believers in secular societies," the journal report said.
Only Finland and New Zealand did not show evidence in the experiment of a bias against atheists, the journal reported.
"It is striking that even atheists appear to hold the same intuitive anti-atheist bias," Will Gervais, University of Kentucky in Lexington psychology professor, said about the study in Agence France-Presse.
Atheists are not trusted in the "most highly religious states" including the U.S., United Arab Emirates, and India, Gervais said in the Agence France-Presse report.
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