Researchers discovered that less belief in evolution is linked to greater levels of prejudice, racist views, discriminating actions toward LGBTQ+ persons and minorities, and overall animosity toward those thought to belong to an out-group in 46 nations. The findings were based on data from the United States, 19 Eastern European nations, 25 Muslim countries, and Israel, and were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“We discovered that skepticism of the hypothesis that humans originated from other animals was linked to prejudice, racism, and support for discriminating action toward human outgroups, particularly minorities” (based on their racial, religious, or sexual identity). “While the association was weak in general, it was constant across nations and cultures,” the study’s authors told IFLScience.
“Importantly, while religiousness and political conservatism were related to belief in human evolution from animals, the associations between belief in human evolution from animals and bigoted attitudes held across religious categories when controlling for religiousness, political views, and other relevant variables” (e.g. income, level of education, etc.). Non-dominant groups (religious and ethnic minorities) also showed results.”
Unfortunately, bigotry is all too widespread in human civilization, but the fact that we are animals may allow us to confront it within ourselves and our societies. The research, coordinated by graduate researcher Stylianos Syropoulos and Dr. Uri Lifshin, provides two possible explanations. One is social identity theory, which emphasizes the importance of group identification in how we describe ourselves. So, if we can accept our common humanity and even animality, we may broaden our ingroup to include individuals who are different from us.
The other concept derives from the paradigm of fear management. Humans have a tendency to ignore their mortality, believing that we may outlive death in both physical and metaphorical terms. Our ingroups’ cultures, faiths, and nationalities, as well as the entire complicated network that makes up our ingroups, protect us from existential problems. As a result, we want to cling to the views of our ingroups. Challenges to that can help us see our prejudices for what they are. More than our science has been altered by the hypothesis of evolution. It has altered humanity’s perception of itself by linking us to animals and the natural world at large.
“According to traditional social psychology, the best method to eliminate discrimination and dehumanization of outgroups is to discover our shared humanity and recognize how outgroups are also human, like us.” While this is true, the approach isn’t ideal since it ignores the reality that humans are, at our core, animals, according to the researchers. “Perhaps the key is to be able to acknowledge our shared animal origins – that we are all animals, ingroup and outgroup alike – and thus be less reliant on our cultural and national identities, which may further attenuate intergroup differences, reducing our susceptibility to prejudice and intergroup conflict.”
While evolution has been used to combat prejudiced ideas such as racism, sexism, and LGBTQphobia, it has also been used to justify bigotry in the name of science, such as the eugenics movement. So just because someone believes in evolution doesn’t imply they don’t have racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist views. The researchers are investigating if merely strengthening people’s confidence in human evolution and our evident connection to the animal world might help combat racism in general.