Christians, Science, and Stereotype Threat

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.”


I have only read some of these materials so far but IMO this is a really important topic for us here at PS (and heck, for society in general). I expect that most of the effects described here are not specifically about religion but about framing and priming and related psychological effects. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for some really fascinating and troubling examples of priming, that have nothing to do with religion or belief.) But that doesn’t make stereotype threat against Christians (or other believers) any less concerning or important. Great stuff, thanks for posting.


As I’ve been driving into physics, the personalities of the scientists have become more interesting. I’m very impressed by Maxwell’s piety and intimate knowledge of scripture as well as his enormous contribution to science. I found that Kepler got along with Catholics and Calvinists when he was supposed to be Lutheran and that was not socially acceptable. I found myself wishing that someone would write a book about Christians in science. I looked briefly and did not find one. The Wikipedia article on Maxwell includes a few quotes that he thought Christians were better at science because they could be more imaginative knowing God could have created the world in any way.