Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Atheists--Terminology; Atheism--Terminology; Prejudices--Religious aspects;


Prior research indicates that how concepts are described impacts our beliefs about the subject itself. For example, when the term “welfare” (instead of “help for the poor”) is used to ask people whether assistance should be increased in times of economic hardship, support is lower (Smith, 1987). My research question centers on whether or not this effect would carry over to the area of religion and the use of the terms “atheist” or “those with no religious beliefs.” Participants in the current studies were presented with a vignette about a student who was labeled as an atheist, as having no religious beliefs, or with no religious information provided (control) who committed an ethical transgression (cheating on an exam). Participants completed dependent measures assessing morality of the target, seriousness of the transgression, recommended punishment, and responsibility. Additionally, participants’ religiosity (Huber & Huber, 2012) and Cognitive Need for Closure (Webster & Kruglanski, 1994) were analyzed as potential moderators. When the target was labeled as an atheist, participants across the three studies recommended that the target be punished more severely and viewed the transgression as more serious than when the target was described as having no religious beliefs. Neither Need for Closure nor religiosity moderated these effects.

Keywords: labeling effect, religious prejudice, atheism, need for closure, religiosity

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Carolyn Hildebrandt, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 94 pages)



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