Stereotypes of nihilists are overwhelmingly negative

Matthew J. Scott, Adam B. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Existential nihilism is on the rise in modern societies, but no previous work has investigated the social psychology of seeing no meaning in life. In the current research, five studies (N = 1,634) show that targets’ existential nihilist beliefs elicit a range of negative stereotypes about personality traits, commonly valued social traits, and targets’ ability to perform basic adaptive social tasks. Results demonstrate that these negative stereotypes are mediated by belief that the target is depressed more than the belief the target is non-religious or that the target does not plan for the future. Unlike atheists, who are seen as competent, no positive stereotypes emerged for nihilists, suggesting both future research and interventions aimed at updating false beliefs about nihilists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-358
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022


  • meaning
  • prejudice
  • religion
  • stereotyping
  • stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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