Initial Findings From the RUS Study at AAAS

AAAS 2014 Annual MeetingYesterday at the AAAS meeting in Chicago, sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund presented some initial results from her “Religious Understandings of Science” study. RUS is a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans (with an over-sampling of scientists) designed to explore three questions: What do religious people (especially evangelicals) think about science, what do rank-and-file scientists think about religion, and where might there be room for dialogue?

The study just closed two weeks, so the results are very fresh, and Ecklund said she had time to analyze only six of the survey’s approximately 75 questions before the meeting. But here are some of her initial findings:

• 15 percent of scientists consider themselves very religious—compared with 19 percent of the general population, and 44 percent of evangelicals.

• Almost 60 percent of evangelicals and 38 percent of the general population believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.”

• 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict—and of this group, 52 percent side with religion.

• Close to 30 percent of evangelicals see a conflict between science and religion, and see themselves on the side of religion.

• Nearly 20 percent of Americans perceive religion as hostile to science, while about 22 percent think scientists are hostile toward religion.

• Evangelicals are twice as likely as those in the general population to consult a religious text or a religious leader when they have a question about science—but they’re as likely as the general public to consult a scientist (though that number is low at only 14 percent).

• 48 percent of evangelicals support that idea that science and religion can work in collaboration—compared with 40 percent of scientists and 38 percent of Americans overall. Among evangelical scientists specifically, however, that number rises to 73 percent.

The survey also revealed that “scientists who identify as evangelical are more religious than regular American evangelicals who are not in science,” Ecklund points out in a news release. “Evangelical scientists feel that they’ve been put under pressure or they find themselves in what they view to be more hostile environments. They potentially see themselves as more religious because they’re seeing the contrast between the two groups all the time.”

Stay tuned for more on this study as we have time to dive deeper into the results and Ecklund has the chance to analyze more of the survey questions.


Breakdown of Hate Crimes Based on Religion

Yesterday, the FBI released its “Hate Crime Statistics, 2009” report, which found that there were 8,336 victims of hate crimes in the United States last year, and that:

Of the 1,575 victims of an anti-religious hate crime:

* 71.9 percent were victims because of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
* 8.4 percent were victims because of an anti-Islamic bias.
* 3.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Catholic bias.
* 2.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Protestant bias.
* 0.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
* 8.3 percent were victims because of a bias against other religions (anti-other religion).
* 4.3 percent were victims because of a bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).


Anger Can Increase Our Desire for Something

Anger is a complicated emotion. Based on personal experience, we all know it produces negative effects, but psychologists have found that it has some positive features as well. For one thing, anger activates an area of the brain that is associated with many positive emotions. And now, psychologists have found that anger can make us want things more than if we weren’t angry.

Normally, we’re motivated to go after things that we find rewarding or make us feel happy—in other words, things that we associate with positive emotions. To test the link between anger and motivation, the researchers asked people to watch a computer screen that displayed common objects, like a mug or pen, and before each object, a neutral, angry, or fearful face secretly flashed on the screen—subliminally linking an emotion to the object. The participants were told to squeeze a handgrip when they wanted an object and that those who squeezed harder were more likely to win it. As it turns out, people put forth more physical effort to get the objects associated with anger, though they didn’t realize it.

This response—to try to get things associated with anger rather than avoid them— “makes sense if you think about the evolution of human motivation,” says Henk Aarts of Utrecht University, who led the study. For example, in an environment where there’s a limited amount of food, he says, “if the food does not make you angry or doesn’t produce aggression in your system, you may starve and lose the battle.”


Language Can Affect How We Think About Others

Could the language that bilingual people use influence how they see other people? A team of researchers decided to test this idea by studying a group of Israeli Arabs who speak both Arabic and Hebrew fluently. They asked the volunteers to take a psychology test that would show how they responded to different words, designed to get at their attitudes and beliefs about Arabs and Israelis.
Specifically, they wanted to see whether the volunteers would find it easier to link Arab names or Jewish names with positive or negative traits—and whether the results depended on which language they were tested in. In one case, for example, the volunteers were asked to press one key on the keyboard whenever they saw a positive word or an Arab name and another key when they saw a negative word or a Jewish name. If the volunteers generally associated “good” with Arabs and “bad” with Jews, they would hit the keys faster than those who didn’t have these “implicit associations.”
So did it matter which language the volunteers were tested in? Turns out it did. Overall, the Arab Israelis showed more negative bias toward Jewish names than Arabic names—they were quicker to associate Jewish names with negative words and Arab names with positive words than they were at making the reverse associations—and this effect was much stronger when the words were presented in Arabic.
Shai Danziger, who worked on the study, isn’t surprised:

I am a bilingual and I believe that I actually respond differently in Hebrew than I do in English. I think in English I’m more polite than I am in Hebrew. People can exhibit different types of selves in different environments. This suggests that language can serve as a cue to bring forward different selves.