Publication: Exploring the Atheist Personality

Research Associate Catherine Caldwell-Harris and Co-Authors
Mental Health, Religion & Culture
October 12, 2010

Abstract: Atheists are America’s least trusted group, and stereotypes about them abound: Atheists are non-conformist, sceptical, cynical, and joyless, rarely experiencing awe. Atheists (N = 42) were recruited from the American atheist website and compared to Christians (N = 22) and Buddhists (N = 18). Groups were highly similar in their reported well-being, empathy, and other personality scales, but differed strongly on scales assessing Spirituality and Magical Ideation, where atheists rejected the concepts of spirituality and magical beliefs. Responding to the question, “Have you ever felt wonderment or felt as if you were part of something greater than yourself?,” 71% said “yes,” citing Nature (54%), Science, (30%), Music/Art (12%), and Human cooperation (8%). Respondents explained their lack of belief as deriving from a preference for logic and rationality, suggesting an intellectual component to atheism. Findings thus support the stereotype of atheists as logical, sceptical, and non-conformist, but not as cynical and joyless.

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