Negative Stereotypes and Christians
Psychologists Kim Rios and her colleagues have been studying how the narrative of conflict around science and faith impacts Christians. Specifically, her team is looking at the stereotype that Christians are not good at science and how such perceptions affect Christians’ performance in science. Here is how one of her collaborators summed up some of their initial findings:
“The paper shows how negative stereotypes about Christians’ performance in science can actually diminish their performance at analytical tasks and sap their interest in and identification with science. This has pernicious consequences for Christian students interested in science, and for science literacy in the US as a whole.”
In a subsequent study, Rios tried to understand not just if Christians underperformed, but why they did. She primed Christians and non-Christians with articles—one supported the conflict narrative and the other suggested compatibility between science and faith. Again, she found a negative effect on performance by Christians. Interestingly, the greatest decline in performance was not by Christians uninterested in science—those likely to not take a task seriously—but by Christians who reported being highly engaged with science prior to the intervention. She suggests that it is not a matter of Christians seeing science as inconsistent with their beliefs such that they don’t try. Rather, those who wanted to do well in science saw the biggest decrease, likely because they know how Christians in science are perceived, and underperform due to the pressure they feel from the stereotype.
In response to Rios’s research, this NPR interviewer summarizes the whole concept of stereotype threats:
“So you have evidence there that having the stereotype in your mind makes you anxious in some way, affects your performance. And this is the key—the most troubling part… people who are reminded of a stereotype about themselves end up behaving in ways that conform to the stereotype.”
- Rios describes her original study in this podcast. National Public Radio (NPR) summarizes it here.
- Rios describes her research on why those stereotypes impact Christians’ performance in science.
- A fellow psychologist describes Rios’s work.
- What is stereotype threat? Try this introduction.
- This link summarizes research on women and mathematics.