It turns out Islamophobia is no myth. Researchers in psychology and medicine have found that anti-Muslim sentiment is a very real phenomenon with potentially dire effects on safety and medical care.
During last week’s United Nations interfaith dialogue, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon singled out Islamophobia as “a new term for an old and terrible form of prejudice.”
Simply appearing Muslim can increase aggressive tendencies towards Muslims a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found. They termed this bias the “Turban Effect.”
Perception and agression
A research team from the University of South Wales in Sydney asked 66 students to play a computer game in which they had to decide whether to shoot at armed and unarmed targets. Some of the targets wore turbans or hijabs (veils), intended to denote Muslim identity, and others had no headwear.
The study found “a significant bias for participants to shoot more at Muslim targets,” implying that fast, spontaneous responses were influenced by “underlying stereotypes rather than explicit reasoning.”
It found that people in a positive mood were most likely to shoot at the Muslim targets, and that the influence of attire on increased aggressive tendencies were therefore “likely due to acquired negative stereotypes.”
But people in the experiment did not even realize their prejudice when the intent of the experiment was revealed to them, according to the study’s lead author, Christian Unkelbach.
"The most common response was, 'I'm sure I didn't show that effect,'" he told the Vancouver Sun. "They're uncomfortable and I believe them - people are not doing this willingly. If they could, they would control that. Here, people are almost the victims of what they are fed by their environment."
"Just putting on this piece of clothing changes people's behavior," he added.
Just putting on this piece of clothing changes people's behavior
Christian Unkelbach, lead author
Another study found that religious prejudice influenced the way doctors evaluated their patients. The study published in Medical Decision Making found that medical students who thought about their own mortality before assessing the heart-attack risk of patients who were identified as Christian or Muslim gave greater risk assessments to the former than the later.
Thus patients with identical symptoms received different assessments based on their religious identity, a finding with “potentially grave implications” according to the study.
“These patterns are in accord with many previous findings that concern with death motivate people to cling more tenaciously to their cultural beliefs, to like people who support those beliefs and to disparage those who even subtly threaten such beliefs,” said the University of Missouri study.
And a new survey in Britain found that prejudice is not limited to adults, either. One in four of the 1,000 children surveyed said they were bullied because of their religious beliefs.
These patterns are in accord with many previous findings that concern with death motivate people to cling more tenaciously to their cultural beliefs, to like people who support those beliefs and to disparage those who even subtly threaten such beliefs
University of Missouri study