Personality and Religiosity

Some of the research on personality and religiosity seems to employ the quite useless Eysenck personality questionnaire – perhaps because a slight negative correlation with psychoticism sounds good for religion. Yes, I am being a tad skeptical here, but one has to wonder why any studies would focus on such a poor measure of personality.

Studies on the genetic heritability of religiosity seem to show a range of results. Reported levels of religiosity are so high in the US that it might be difficult to tease genetic and cultural factors apart. I'd be more inclined to trust the conclusions of a study on 1974 Dutch families with adolescent and young adult twins:
"Analyses of these data showed that differences between individuals in religious upbringing, in religious affiliation and in participation in church activities are not influenced by genetic factors. The familial resemblance for different aspects of religion is high, but can be explained entirely by environmental influences common to family members. Shared genes do not contribute to familial resemblances in religion. The absence of genetic influences on variation in several dimensions of religion is in contrast to findings of genetic influences on a large number of other traits that were studied in these twin families."

Ignoring extremes of neurological functioning, such as temporal lobe epilepsy, and extremes of psychological functioning, such as personality disorders, I have a hunch about the temperament that might be most likely to adhere to parental patterns of religiosity:

Whereas the Eysenck personality questionnaire is utterly outmoded, the Myers-Briggs Types Inventory is more generally useful with regard to attitudes. The MBTI types individuals according to their self-report of preferential approaches to others and to information:

E/I : extraversion vs introversion – outgoing, energized by social interaction vs introspective and fatigued by too much socializing.

S/N : sensing vs intuitive – satisfaction with the basic information (S) vs a tendency to search for cognitive insights based upon that information (N).

F/T : feeling vs thinking – self-perception of basing of decisions upon 'gut'-level intuitions and feeling (F) vs basing of decisions on logic and rationality (T).

J/P : judging vs perceiving – a preference for closed-ended structure and quick decisions (J) vs a desire to keep options open and to seek more information before making decisions (P).

The four parameters yield 16 different combinations. Though many mental health professionals might treat these combinations as cut-and-dried, there are shades of gray to these parameters – for example, you might consistently base some types of decisions on feelings and other types of decisions on logic.

All MBTI types are equally 'healthy' in a psychological sense. The differences relate to preferred modes of interaction with others and the world. The commonest personality type is ESFJ and the least common is INTP (or is it INTJ? – it's years since I saw the actual statistics).

Because the inventory is administered by fee-charging professionals who purchase it from the developers, it is not available on-line. However, it is not too difficult to quickly guesstimate where you – and your family and friends –would place on the inventory. This page has a chart with roll-over descriptions of each combination.

My hunch is that those who attend church regularly are more likely to be ESFJ than are atheists. ESFJs are socially oriented, satisfied with basic information, feeling-oriented, and structured. I am not saying that all religious people are likely to be ESFJ, just more likely. This is not necessarily true of any theists who might choose to read a blog that sports a large red A – such theists might be atypical.

Reading atheist blogs, I detect a high level of emphasis on logic and analysis, so my hunch is that atheists are more likely to be -NT- (probably -NTP) than -SF-. Obviously, the latter would not necessarily apply to those who become atheists because of traumatic events that damage faith in the deity's benevolence, but it might separate those who turn to religion in the face of life's difficulties from those who do not.

If you want to try an on-line inventory, "True Colors" inventories yield somewhat comparable results here (it's quick). Individuals are a blend of the four colors – rather like a Scottish tartan – on this test. The commonest 'color', corresponding to ESFJ, is gold, while the least frequent type is green.

If I ever figure out how to write the code for polls, I might set one up to do a general survey of MBTI and colors amongst atheists (that's presumably who reads this blog).

In the meantime, it might be interesting if you want to list, as a comment, your a/religious beliefs and your 'type'.
The Friendly Atheist has a related post on this topic: What Role Does Personality Play in Belief/Skepticism?

Further to this topic, I found the following information:

A sample of 422 female undergraduate students, attending a university-sector college in Wales specialising in teacher education and liberal arts subjects, completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator together with the Troldahl-Powell Dogmatism Scale. The data demonstrated that higher dogmatism scores are most clearly associated with sensing rather than intuition. Higher dogmatism scores are also associated with extraversion rather than introversion, and with judging rather than perceiving. No significant difference in dogmatism scores were found between thinking and feeling.

That is, ESJ types are indeed more likely to be dogmatic. It's interesting that there was no significant difference in dogmatism between self-reports of T versus F.

Why not?

Feeling is only indirectly connected to thinking, yet decisional output ultimately involves thinking. Self-report on a parameter where feeling may be appropriate on some occasions and thought appropriate in others, is fraught with the potential for mis-reporting. This probably explains the observation that T is the parameter most likely to shift on repeated administration of the MBTI.

Self-report that an individual makes decisions on the basis of thinking does not necessarily indicate that the individual's thought processes are logical or effective. Since people are aware that intelligence is socially valued, they are probably more likely to exhibit a bias for overreporting themselves as Ts.

Most people are likely to overestimate the effectiveness of their thinking, in some areas at the least. One presumes that Sarah Palin fondly imagines that her thought processes are logical. An ill-informed, illogical, or magic-thinking thought is still a thought. So, S combined with T may be selectively ineffectual in promoting critical thinking. Data suggests that superficial, illogical, and emotional thinking are prevalent problem.

Dogmatism, Religion, and Psychological Type, Christopher F. J. Ross, Leslie J. Francis and Charlotte L. Craig, Pastoral Psychology, Volume 53, Number 5 / May, 2005


atheism, cognition, emotion, logic, psychology, personality, religion,


salient said...

I'll get the ball rolling. I'm a devout, life-long atheist (now 7 on Dawkin's scale).

On the MBTI, I fall in a gray area – half-E, half-I; definitely N; half-F, half-T; definitely P.

This fits with my colors – strongly green, quite blue, fairly orange, and scarcely any gold. I have become more F and 'blue' as I have grown older.

My MBTI/colors fit with why I even bothered to write this post at all – I'm analytical and I'm interested in how people tick.

The Blogger said...

I am an INFP in transition from being a committed Christian (I am an ordained minister) to something approaching atheism in that I no longer believe in the existence of a divine being but can accept a common underlying force which links life together. I am an MBTI practitioner and have used it for years to increase my self awareness. I guess my move in faith is influenced by my intuition which is open to wider experience, my feeling which gives great importance to values and personal development (hence disliking group think and dogmatic dictatorships), the introversion gives me space to reflect and the perception allow me to be open ended in thinking and unwilling to accept that the given is all there is.

I suspect the dogmatic theists are more of the STJ persuation - the sensing preferring black or white thinking, the T given less concern for individual beliefs and accepting of imposing what one ought to believe, and the J closes them to broader thought - they enjoy their cut and dried world where all questions are simply answered by tenets of faith.

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salient said...

You seem to be describing pantheism - Spinoza's God.

That's an interesting thought on dogmatic theists. However, the F/T dichotomy relates more to whether or not the individual processes information through an emotional or a cognitive filter. So, we either 'think' with our hearts or think with our heads.

You seem to be depicting T as describing those who 'think' according to what they feel they 'should' believe. I'd classify such types as Fs not Ts. I say this, of course, without having administered the inventory. I do see your point about their not caring for the feelings of others, though. I suspect that they max out on J parameters.

My experience with both atheists and theists suggests that theists are more often 'F'. I can think of one dogmatist (alternative beliefs, but religious nonetheless) who is a very angry ISFJ with very little insight.

As an MBTI practitioner, you are in a unique position to conduct an informal study on this question -- hint, hint!