Should ‘Believing In God’ Be Its Own Personality Dimension? Here’s What The Science Says

New research forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology tackles the question of whether “religiosity” should be its own personality dimension, or whether it can be predicted from other personality traits.

The answer, it turns out, depends on whether you live in a highly religious culture.

“Religiosity is important and so it is important for personality psychologists to understand religiosity’s personality predictors,” state the authors of the research, led by Theresa Entringer of the University of Mannheim.

To address this question, the researchers used the Big Five model of personality as a starting point.

“Most personality research on [religiosity] has focused on the well-established Big Five personality domains,” state the researchers. “In particular, personality psychologists have examined how religiosity is predicted by (1) agreeableness, (2) conscientiousness, (3) extraversion, (4) openness to experience, and (5) neuroticism.”

First, the researchers conducted an analysis of five existing studies to see how well religiosity lined up with the Big Five traits. To add granularity to their analysis, they examined the Big Five personality dimensions at the “facet” level. (Each of the Big Five’s personality traits contain six facets, or sub-traits.)

Here’s what their analysis turned up. Below is a list of the 30 facets encapsulated in the Big Five personality dimensions. Fourteen of these traits, italicized below, showed reliable, albeit relatively small, correlations with religiosity.

Extraversion

  • Warmth – People who see themselves as kind and compassionate are more likely to be religious
  • Gregariousness (no association with religiosity)
  • Assertiveness (no association with religiosity)
  • Activity (no association with religiosity)
  • Excitement seeking (no association with religiosity)
  • Positive emotions – People who are enthusiastic and energetic are more likely to be religious

Openness to experience

  • Fantasy (no association with religiosity)
  • Aesthetics (no association with religiosity)
  • Feelings (no association with religiosity)
  • Actions (no association with religiosity)
  • Ideas (no association with religiosity)
  • Values – People who value art and aesthetic experiences are less likely to be religious

Agreeableness

  • Trust – People who see themselves as trustworthy are more likely to be religious
  • Straight-forwardness – People who are direct and frank in the way they behave toward others are more likely to be religious
  • Altruism – People who see themselves as helpful and unselfish are more likely to be religious
  • Compliance – People who see themselves as forgiving and deferential are more likely to be religious
  • Modesty (no association with religiosity)
  • Tender-mindedness – People who are guided by their feelings are more likely to be religious

Conscientiousness

  • Competence – People who view themselves as capable and accomplished are more likely to be religious
  • Order (no association with religiosity)
  • Dutifulness – People who view themselves as having a high adherence to standards of conduct are more likely to be religious
  • Achievement-striving – People who view themselves as having a high will to succeed are more likely to be religious
  • Self-discipline – People who view themselves as having high self-discipline and persistence are more likely to be religious
  • Deliberation – People who view themselves as methodical and cautious are more likely to be religious

Neuroticism

  • Anxiety (no association with religiosity)
  • Hostility (no association with religiosity)
  • Depression (no association with religiosity)
  • Self-consciousness (no association with religiosity)
  • Impulsiveness – People who view themselves as capricious and easily agitated are less likely to see themselves as a religious person
  • Vulnerability (no association with religiosity)

“Taken together, these results paint a portrait of the connections between the Big Five facets and religiosity that is difficult to interpret, if not confusing,” state the researchers.

To add clarity to a murky research picture, the psychologists next analyzed personality data from over one million people in more than 55 countries and 2000 cities around the world. They found that the Big Five personality traits were much better at predicting religiosity in highly religious countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, and less effective at predicting religiosity in less religious countries such as Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and Estonia.

They conclude, “The Big Five facets are major predictors of religiosity, but only in religious cultures.” Which is probably the way it should be.

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