A forthcoming article from titled The Perception of Atheists as Narcissistic finds:
Participants consistently rated atheists higher on narcissism measures and lower on empathy measures, indicating a perception of greater narcissism and a lack of empathy compared with religious individuals and controls. Participants’ perceptions of Alex were affected by his or her gender in conjunction with his or her religion, and the 2 variables of gender and religion interacted to create different patterns of perception. In general, interactions indicated differences in the way religion and gender impacted the perception of individuals as narcissistic, affecting perceptions of males more than females. The results are consistent with research findings that perceptions of atheists tend to be negative and prejudicial. This study highlights the need to compare perceptions with actual personality differences between atheists and religious individuals.
Being both male and an atheist, this naturally catches my eye and my thoughts and hypothesis will be accordingly biased, but here it goes anyway.
I would hypothesize that the perceived personality differences are clearly wrong and completely opposite to actual personality differences. Rather than male atheists being more narcissistic in general, I’d assume the reverse to be true - male atheists are in fact kinder and more altruistic on average.
Take just two studies that might provide some evidence in favor of this hypothesis (i.e. NOT fact, open to change): one on the topic of where kindness comes from published UC Berkeley’s Greater Good website and a meta-analysis that investigated the relation between intelligence and religiosity.
The first study states:
People who scored higher on a battery of cognitive, attention, and IQ tests also tended to be more genuinely kind—but no more, or less, likely to exhibit kindness based on strategic or norm-motivated concerns. Nor did they describe themselves as more kind. This challenges a popular assumption that greater intelligence is associated with more scrutinizing cost-benefit analysis or deliberation of fairness in decisions to be or not to be kind. People with lower intelligence scores were just as likely to take cost-benefit analysis, reciprocity, or reputation into consideration while being kind. Like low negativity, scoring higher in intelligence was linked to being kind just for the sake of kindness.
As might be predicted by common gender stereotypes, women scored higher in self-reported kindness. This sex difference, however, did not play out for genuinely kind behavior, which was actually more common in men.
These statements suggest that people with higher intelligence and people who are men are more likely to be genuinely kind. That’s one point for men, but what does this have to do with atheism?
As the second study mentioned above suggests, atheism and intelligence seem to be connected, at least through correlation:
A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity. The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior.
That last bit is important, as it means that it is not the overt behavior that seems to matter, so much as the internal set of beliefs around atheism or religiosity.
Putting those two studies together, there would seem to be a minimum case to be made for making the hypothesis that perceptions of male atheist are off the mark, perhaps radically so, and that as the forthcoming article suggests the, “study highlights the need to compare perceptions with actual personality differences between atheists and religious individuals,” to figure out just how warranted these types of prejudices are or are not, statistically speaking of course.
In closing, one last item of interest in this discussion is an excerpt from Peter Singer’s book The Most Good You Can Do where he writes:
The average IQ score is still 100, but that is only because IQ test scores are standardized to produce this result. The tests themselves are changed from time to time in order to bring the raw scores closer to the standardized scores. In every major industrialized nation, raw scores have risen by an average of about 3 points per decade. The phenomenon is known as the Flynn effect, after James Flynn, who published papers on it in 1984 and 1987. It has been estimated that by today’s standards the average IQ in the United States in 1932 was only 80.
Several explanations have been put forward for this rise in IQ scores, ranging from better nutrition to a more stimulating environment that requires us to do more thinking. Better education may have played some part, but scores have risen most on those questions that test the ability to reason abstractly rather than on the sections that test vocabulary and math. Flynn later proposed that the spread throughout the population of scientific modes of reasoning about problems could contribute to an improvement in reasoning.
Steven Pinker believes that the improvement in our reasoning abilities may have begun when the development of the printing press spread ideas and information to a much larger proportion of the population. He argues that better reasoning had a positive moral impact too. We became better able to take an impartial stance and detach ourselves from our personal and parochial perspectives. Pinker calls this a “moral Flynn effect.” (p. 96)
Regardless of whether male atheists turn out to be statistically more kind or not (who really cares?), the above passage gives hope that in time we will all be more moral due to ever increasing average intelligence levels and better development outcomes resulting from increased nutrition, more stimulating environments, better education, and deeper understanding of genetics, epigenetics, and intrauterine development on our neurobiology, which in and of itself leads to more moral people due to larger neurological capacities to care, cooperate, and think of others.