The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

When Obama Is Not a U.S. Citizen (And a Muslim, Anti-Christ)

The effect of race primes on acceptance of Obama smears

Potential Presidential nominee Donald Trump is raising quite a fuss over Obama's birth certificate. Polls show that a surprisingly high number of people believe he could be the anti-Christ, and that he is Muslim. Research (here and here) has begun to explore the causes of these beliefs.

I hope it is clear to everyone reading this that Obama isn't Muslim, and is a U.S. citizen. He went to a Christian church for decades, and still openly confesses to be Christian, and that wasn't/isn't some elaborate scheme he had cooked up to convince people he is Christian. His birth announcement also appeared in several newspapers. Again, I doubt that was some elaborate scheme.

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Recent research has begun to explore, let's be honest, belief in sort of ridiculous things about Obama. One study found that when "black race" was primed prior to rating Obama, participants were more likely to think he was the anti-Christ. Not surprisingly, they also were likely to rate him less positively overall too.

Another study found that when Obama's race was on people's minds, they were more likely to believe that he is a Muslim.

So, perhaps, these studies suggest that people who are more likely to think about Obama's race (for whom it is probably more of an issue for) are more likely to endorse the belief that he is Muslim, or the anti-Christ. Or at least, these studies show that when people think about Obama's race, these (perceived as) smears are more likely to be believed.

This is consistent with a broader theme of social cognition, namely, that people's beliefs are highly motivated, and that people tend to believe what they want to believe ( see here and here) even when it conflicts with objective accuracy. And, further, that what we are thinking about and noticing at any given time, directly influences our attitudes at that time. Put differently, our beliefs change (slightly) based on a wide range of factors, many of which we are not even aware of, from one moment, or situation, to the next.


P.S. interestingly, Obama is rated as higher in stereotypically Black traits when Black people are forced to focus on his positive qualities. This is unpublished research from our lab, but it is entirely consistent with decades of research on social identity theory.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.


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