Religion and personality
Most scientists agree that religiosity is not an independent personality trait, despite there being some commonality between their characteristics. Religiosity and personality traits both relate to one's feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. However, one's level of religiosity is often measured by the presence or lack of belief in and relationship with a higher power, certain lifestyles or behaviors adopted for a higher power, and a sense of belonging with other followers of one's religion. Additionally, personality traits tend to follow a normal distribution, such that the majority of individuals' scores for a personality trait will be concentrated towards the middle, rather than being extremely high or low. Distributions for religiosity, however, follow a non-normal distribution, such that there are more individuals who score particularly high or low on religiosity scales.
Viewing religiosity through the lenses of differing personality characteristics provides a relatively empirical way to study a difficult concept. Over time, the act of being religious has been a consistent behavior across almost every culture, and thus provides evidence that our personality can help explain the seeming predisposition of religious people.
With the ability to use modern, empirically tested personality measures, researchers can link results with religiosity. In linking personality measures with religion, it is possible to quantitatively study results, which can provide insight into how and why religion is such an important element of being human. However, more research is needed to definitively say that there is a correlation between certain personality characteristics and religion.
Five-factor model of personality
The five-factor model of personality is currently accepted as a comprehensive model of personality. The five-factor model (FFM) identifies five broad traits underlying the many narrower traits that can be used to describe personality. The identified traits are: 1) extraversion, the quantity and intensity of one's interpersonal interactions 2) neuroticism, the tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and hostility 3) conscientiousness, the persistence, organization, and motivation exhibited in goal-directed behaviors 4) agreeableness, the quality of one's interpersonal interactions along a continuum from compassion to antagonism 5) openness, the proactive seeking and appreciation of new experiences. The idea behind the big five personality characteristics that makes them compatible to religious study is that each trait is orthogonal, or completely independent from one another. In having the ability to separate each essential trait from the other, it is possible to study each personality characteristic and how it relates to religiosity.
The idea of studying the psychology of religion through a personality lens is not a new idea, however. There has been research to both support and refute the ability of personality traits to explain religious or spiritual involvement. Research using Eysenck's model has found that religiosity in general is associated with low openness to experience, as well as low psychoticism, a factor associated inversely with agreeableness and conscientiousness. A review of studies examined the relations between the FFM and measures of religiosity, spiritual maturity, religious fundamentalism, and extrinsic religion. General religiosity was mainly related to Agreeableness and Conscientiousness of the big five traits. Additionally, there was a weak positive association with extraversion, and a very small but significant relationship with low openness to experience. This same study also found that the two different concepts of religiosity and spirituality both involve an overall compassionate attitude towards others and positively correlates with agreeableness. Open, mature religiosity and spirituality were associated with high openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, and with low neuroticism. Religious fundamentalism was associated with higher agreeableness, and lower neuroticism and lower openness to experience. Because of these factors, it was also seen that more religious people seem to be altruistic and more well behaved. However, this correlation is pretty small. It is not known if religious people tend to be better behaved or if better behaved people are more attracted to religion. Extrinsic religiosity was associated with higher neuroticism but unrelated to the other personality factors. All of these relationships between personality and religion were small. This finding does not necessarily support the concept of personality for being the specific reason for religiosity, however this correlation with the FFM can lead to more in depth research on the topic.
Strengths and weaknesses
As previously stated, one of the major strengths for using the FFM to study religiosity in people is that it is empirically tested, and how accurate the measure actually is in accordance to personality. Another strength is that the big five is an excellent starting point for beginning to look at links between personality and religiosity because it is simply laid out. While this is a huge strength, some research argues that its downfall lies in that it is solely a personality indicator, and is not compatible with religious or spiritual matters. For example, in another study that investigated the correlation between religiosity and the FFM, a conclusion was drawn that religiosity and/or spirituality should be made into a sixth personality factor in order to truly make research using this model accurate. As more advances in research using the FFM to study religiosity and spirituality come, there will be a clearer cut answer as to whether there is a significant place for the FFM in studying religious behavior.
Attachment Theory is another example of a personality indicator with the ability to help researchers understand religiosity and spirituality. The basic premise of attachment theory is that infants form relationships with their caregivers, and depending on the type of attachment, personality and future relationships will be influenced accordingly. The idea behind how the theory relates to the psychology of religion is that these future relationships can be with the particular god, or higher power.
In attachment theory, there have been three attachment styles identified: 1)secure style- confidence in the availability of attachment figures during times of need 2)avoidant style- insecurity and lack of trust in the ability of others to care for one's needs 3) anxious-ambivalent style- view of others as being reluctant to get close to oneself. The research varies in explaining which type of attachment style yields the individual's particular relationship with God. For example, in one study, a secure relationship with one's parents will translate into a secure attachment to God, and vice versa. However, other research has showed that there is a compensatory effect, or the need of people to make up for something that is lacking. For instance, someone with an insecure attachment style with their parents may in turn, have a very secure, and confident relationship with God.
Strengths and weaknesses
The idea of being able to link people's religiousness (or lack thereof) with how their attachment with their caregivers was, seems to be a promising field of study. The obstacle that makes this seemingly simple idea very complicated is that the current data is so skewed. There are many studies that found there is a direct correspondence from attachment style with caregivers to God, and there are studies who have found more compensatory results. The inability of researchers to find a general consensus could be a hindrance towards future exploration in this field.
Object relations theory
Object relations theory's roots lie in children relating or associating different emotions with different people (objects). The children associate these emotions to the objects based on how they currently view the world around them. For example, kids will associate the emotion of something good with mother, and bad with something like criminals. In relating this with religious ideals, it seems natural that the same concept should apply. One's relationship with God should, in theory, be traced back to association.
In this theory, it is hypothesized that the person ends up creating an idea of God according to what the individual needs, and how he or she perceives the world. This view of personality and religion does not focus on how each person differs trait wise, but it centers on the type of relationship the individual has with God.
Strengths and weaknesses
An important notion to keep in mind with Object Relations theory is that it is highly theoretical. This is a weakness in the sense that all data is based on a concept that cannot be objectively verified, and thus creates a confound. As with all inquiries about the psychological nature of religion, it is difficult to find extremely valid and reliable measures because of the introspective nature of the subject. That being said, there is something that we can learn from this field of study. By analyzing how this theory of personality development correlates with one's attachment to a religious deity, we can hopefully begin to understand how important association, and perception is to religious ideals.
Religious struggles and personality
Research has shown that struggles with religion correlates to basic personality traits. Studies on The Big Five Factors of Personality, as well as factors such as self-compassion, self-esteem, and entitlement, suggest that there is a significant relationship between religious uncertainty and personality.
People who are high in neuroticism may have a hard time trying to find purpose in their life. This correlates with divine struggles as they may encounter distress when it comes to finding the meaning of life as well as recognizing divine figures of religions. Extroversion, however, has not been linked through research or studies with religious struggles. Very little evidence is available to suggest that openness to experience is linked to religious struggles, but it is thought that those who are high in openness to experience may carry more doubt in religion compared to those who are lower in openness to experience. Both agreeableness and conscientiousness have been associated with possible animosity towards God or other divine figures. It has also been found that religious people are more likely to avoid risk.
Religion and life satisfaction
Research done by Salsman, Brown, Brechting, and Carlson showed a positive correlation between religion and life satisfaction of about 0.2 to 0.3. It was shown by Salsman that those who practice religion have a generally more positive outlook on life. Many elements of religion have been studied to determine which aspects impacts one's life satisfaction. It was found that both personal and organizational religion can lead to an increased life satisfaction. Individual prayer, a feeling of intimacy with the divine, and meditation were all linked to greater psychological well-being and life satisfaction. When it came to organizational religion, people felt a greater satisfaction knowing that they belonged to a group, had a support system from the church, and felt fulfilled when they increased their participation within the church's community.
Those who feel conflicted about religion may encounter a decline in their health, both mentally and physically. Research has shown that those who have religious struggles could have higher depression and anxiety levels. The risk of suicide is even elevated when struggle is present within religion. These struggles have been linked to a separation from the church or the divine; however the cause for the separation is unknown and may stem from different events throughout life such as a traumatic death in the family, difficult life events, or a mental battle between oneself. It is likely people who are religiously conflicted show a decline in health, compared to religious people, due to a lack of community support or ability to manage stress. Since a religious community can offer psychological, social, or financial support, it may help people better handle stress or recover from hardship. Not only can religious people benefit from the community, but they can possibly benefit from prayer or meditation. Although, more research is needed to validate the causes of religious separation and how it effect one's personality.
Religion and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, uses four dichotomies to indicate a person's psychological preference. When used in studies alongside religion, it has been shown that introverted types (primarily ISTJ and INTJ) are more likely to be atheist. However, a large portion of Greek Orthodox is ISTJ as well. In addition, the "judging" (J) type is common among evangelical and Protestants. ESFJ and ENFJ personality types are more interested in becoming ministers than other type. ENFJs are more attracted to becoming ministers of liberal denominations, while ESFJs are more interested in becoming ministers in conservative denominations. The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, although popular, is flawed.
Religiosity and paranormal beliefs
Most religions are based around a belief in some sort of supernatural being. This may lead some to believe that the characteristic of being religious would relate in someway to the characteristic of believing in other paranormal beings. However, multiple studies have found no correlation between these two characteristics. This could be due to the fact that many religions discourage their members from thinking too much of paranormal beings, as they are thought to be evil. In conclusion, paranormal beliefs are probably not highly related to personality traits.
Religion as a personality characteristic
While there are many who believe religion has a strong influence on personality development, some believe it may be a personality trait on its own. Vassilis Saroglou, for example, has developed on the idea by introducing four traits of personality that religion develop: believing, bonding, behaving, and belonging. Believing refers to someone accepting the belief in a supernatural being or world. Bonding is how important religion is to the self and how it connects them to something larger than themselves. Behaving is how someone changes their own lifestyle to appease their spiritual beliefs. Belonging is the identity one acquires from believing in a religion. This concept, published in 2011, easily applies to religion cross-culturally and to a wide range of spirituality.
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