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Atheists vs. Theists: Are Non-Believers Really More Compassionate?


"The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion..."

Earlier this month, The Blaze featured research that indicates that atheists are more driven by compassion than their religious peers.

The study, published in the July 2012 issue of "Social Psychological and Personality Science," is certainly controversial. Yesterday, one of the academics behind the study further explained the results that have some individuals -- particularly the faithful -- scratching their heads.

(Related: Are Atheists More Inclined to Help Their Fellow Man Than Religious People?)

Here's what we initially reported about the study:

“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” [study co-author Robb] Willer said. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or repetitional concerns.” [...]

“...this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” Willer alleged.

While atheists may jump for joy over the prospect that they are seemingly more compassionate than believers, more research is needed to understand this disparity. As in all human behavior findings, there are likely factors that are unseen laying at the root of religious peoples’ giving — factors that will need deeper exploration.

On Russia Today's "The Big Story," hosted by Thom Hartmann, compassion and giving among people of faith and non-believers was on the agenda yesterday. Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, joined Hartmann to more deeply examine and explain the research.

Here's how she framed the information that her team uncovered about compassion, the faithful and non-believers:

"It doesn't necessarily tap into a difference between religious people and non-religious people with regards to how much compassion they feel. Rather it points out the fact that when you try to prompt people with compassion...in the moment...they're more likely to behave in a pro-social or generous or cooperative way.

On average, the religious people were overall more cooperative than the people who were non-religious. It's just that when you try to prompt the feeling or the idea or thoughts about compassion, this was more moving or more influential to the behavior to the people who were less religious."

Still confused? What she's saying here is that religious people are kind and giving, but that they aren't as swayed by in-the-moment pleas and occurrences that are fueled -- or centered upon -- compassion. Simon-Thomas continues:

"It just seems like if people feel that they are religious on a day-to-day basis, their compassion seems to be a little bit more -- sort of ingrained all the time rather than something that comes on in a specific moment.

So when we try to invoke compassion in a specific moment, they're not as moved by it...they're cooperative, they're generous regardless of whether we have tried to tap into compassion -- whereas people who are low on religion seem to be much more influenced by a moment of compassion being brought on."

Watch the commentary on RT, below:

While atheists may see this as a victory in terms of their compassion levels, believers could argue that atheists are more prone to being duped or tricked based on emotionally-driven appeals. As we stated in the original piece, more research is needed to properly understand -- and to corroborate -- these paradigms.

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