Changing Views of Serpent Handling: A Quasi-Experimental Study



Knowledge about serpent handling sects (SHS) even among social scientists and legislators has been largely influenced by biased media reports. Our own field research suggests that factual knowledge about SHS is effective in changing stereotypes about serpent handling and in altering views as to the rights of believers to handle serpents in church. In a quasi-experimental study, participants were pretested with respect to both prejudicial and reasoned evaluative views about SHS. Participants saw either a video of contemporary SHS in which handlers demonstrated and explained their faith, or a control tape in which contemporary SHS were shown but serpent handling was neither demonstrated nor defended. As predicted, viewing the serpent handling video was effective in reducing stereotyping of SHS and in changing attitudes regarding the sincerity of the believers and the right of SHS to practice their faith without legal constraints. Appropriate controls indicated that changes were not simply a function of a pretest by treatment interaction. The relevance of these data for altering laws against the practice of serpent handling is discussed.