Low belief in evolution is associated with a higher level of prejudice, racist attitudes, discriminatory behaviors toward LGBTQ+ people and ethnic minorities, and general hostility toward people perceived to belong to an out-group, researchers found using surveys collected across 46 countries.
The findings, reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, were based on data from the United States, 19 Eastern European countries, 25 Muslim countries, and Israel.
“We found that disbelief in the theory that humans evolved from other animals was associated with prejudice, racist attitudes, and support for discriminatory behaviors towards human outgroups, particularly minorities (based on their racial, religious, or sexual identity). This correlation was generally small but was consistent across different countries and cultures,” the research authors told IFLScience.
“Importantly, although belief in human evolution was related to religiosity and political conservatism, the associations between belief in human evolution from animals and bigoted attitudes held also across various religious categories when controlling for measures of religiousness and political views, as well as other relevant variables (e.g. income, level of education, etc.). Findings were also found among non-dominant groups (religious and racial minorities).”
Bigotry is unfortunately way too common in human culture, but the fact that we are animals might help to challenge that within ourselves and our societies. The work, led by graduate researcher Stylianos Syropoulos and Dr Uri Lifshin, suggests two hypotheses as to why that might be the case.
One is social identity theory, which places group identity at the center of how we define ourselves. So if we can accept our shared humanity and even our shared animality, we can expand our ingroup to embrace those who are different from us.
The other idea comes from terror management theory. Humans tend to deny our mortality, believing that we can survive death either literally or symbolically. Our cultures, religions, nations, the whole complex network of what makes our ingroups, shield us from these existential questions. So we like to hold onto those ingroups ideas. Challenges to that can open our eyes to our bigotries.
The theory of evolution has revolutionized more than our science. By connecting us to animals and the natural world at large, it has changed how humanity sees itself.
“Classical social psychology suggests that finding our common humanity and seeing how our outgroups are also human, like us, is the way to reduce bigotry and dehumanization of outgroups. While this is true, this solution isn’t perfect, because it still ignores the fact that we are in essence animals,” the team explained to IFLScience.
“So perhaps the key is to be able to acknowledge our shared animal origin – that we are all animals, ingroup and outgroup alike, and thus be less depended on our cultural and national identities which might further attenuate intergroup differences, eventually reducing our proneness to prejudice and intergroup conflict.”
While the theory of evolution has been used to challenge bigoted attitudes such as racism, misogyny, LGBTQphobia, it has also been used to perpetuate bigotry under the guise of science such as the eugenics movement. So just because someone knows that evolution is true, it doesn’t mean they do not possess racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist attitudes.
The team is working to see if simply increasing people’s belief in human evolution and our undeniable link to the animal world can help challenge bigotry across the board.