Atheists Have Higher Self-Esteem Than Christians? Chinese Study Explains
By David Jenkins - Crossmap On June 12, 2012
Christians Have Lower Self-Esteem?
According to a psychology study conducted by Ying Ma and Shihui Han, athists seem to have a higher self-view of themselves compared to Christians.
Ma and Han, both students at Peking University in Beijing, China, wondered what the psychological effects of these varying belief systems could be on the people who practiced them. While Christianity teaches charity and carrying for others, what are the cognitive effects of such teachings?
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"They recruited pairs of students: 10 pairs of atheists, and 10 pairs of Christians. All the pairs were matched for age and gender, and each pair of friends had known each other for at least two years during which they were roommates or classmates," Epiphenom, a science blog, reported about the design of the study.
Two simple tests were conducted for the study. The first part involved face recognition. A photograph of the subject or of a friend would flash on a computer screen and a quick reach at the appropriate button would suggest that the face was easily recognizable. If the subject delayed in his or her response, that would indicate that the face was more difficult to identify.
The second part of the study was a variation of the Implicit Associate Test (IAT). The IAT is commonly used in psychology to determine the strength in which one unconsciously associates between mental representations of objects/concepts in recollection.
"In this test, the subjects had to match either their own or their friend's faces with positive (e.g. "good") or negative (e.g. "bad") words," Epiphenom continued to report.
According to science, if one has a good opinion of themselves, they would react quickly at the sight of positive words. However, if the image of an enemy appears, one may react more slowly and pair it with a negative word.
The results of the study showed that Christians and atheists were equal in recognizing their friends' faces in the first test. However, Christians were slower at recognizing their own face, compared to atheists.
Similarly, Christians and atheists responded with positive words for friends during the IAT. But when it came to matching good words with their own faces, Christians revealed to show less positive responses, compared to atheists.
"They went on to show that the results of the Implicit Association Test explained the results on the first test. In other words, the relatively low opinion Christians had of themselves was linked to their relatively tardy reactions on the self recognition test. Ma and Han note that previous research has shown that Christian belief and practice that emphasize human sinfulness seems to weaken positive attitudes toward the self, and suspect that this is what their results have shown:
'...our results suggest that the implicit positive view of the self can be reduced by Christian belief and practice that repudiates the distinctness of the self and friends and this in turn can eliminate the advantage of self-face over friend-face in the believers,'"
This study, conducted in China, cannot be applied universally. China is considered a minority religion in the country and Chinese culture suggests different psychological factors compared to that of Western cultures.
However, these results can shed light on the deep effects our beliefs can have on each group.