Sunday, June 05, 2011

Agnostics and Big 5 personality traits

Readers SFG and HBD Chick suggested that I compare the personality traits of agnostics with non-agnostics (MIDUS data, sample size = 3,960).


Mean scores

Extraversion
Agnostics 2.82*
Others 3.10
Cohen's d .49

Negative emotionality
Agnostics 2.15
Others 2.09

Agreeableness
Agnostics 3.23*
Others 3.45
Cohen's d .44

Conscientiousness
Agnostics 3.36*
Others 3.49
Cohen's d .29

Openness to experience
Agnostics 3.17*
Others 2.90
Cohen's d .50

*Agnostics and others are significantly different

Compared to the general population, agnostics are more introverted, less agreeable, less conscientious, and more open. They are like atheists, only shy and neurotic.

6 comments:

Nanonymous said...

They are like atheists, only shy and neurotic.

Of course! 100% predictable. Because agnostics ARE atheists, they just don't want to admit it.

SFG said...

Some truth to that, though I don't think I can jump off the cliff and say God definitely does not exist. There COULD be a God, I don't know.

The Cultural Wallflower said...

These differences are quite believable, though know that agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism are those self-reported traits most affected by social desirability (self-deception) and impression management goals (other-deception), and therefore different levels of various kinds of deceptiveness across these groups will lead to a distorted view of the magnitude of difference. Is it plausible that agnostics are less (or perhaps more) self-deceiving or duplicitous than others to your mind? I know of no study which tests this directly, off the top of my head, but it's something to think about.

bgc said...

I found that convinced atheists (and also devoutly religious) were less depressed than 'not sures' in two independent (but small) samples

http://qjmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/98/11/840.1.full

and we later found work from another group that reported the same.

However, when we later tried to replicate it again, the effect (if present) was weak and did not reach conventional significance.

It is somewhat frustrating to work in this area of psychology of religion/ atheism!

hbd chick said...

thnx, inductivist! (^_^)

"Compared to the general population, agnostics are more introverted, less agreeable, less conscientious, and more open. They are like atheists, only shy and neurotic."

yeah, that's me alright! on some (silly, online) big 5 personality test i scored really high on introversion, low on agreeableness, and very high on openness. i scored pretty high on conscientiousness, tho.

@nanonymous - "Because agnostics ARE atheists, they just don't want to admit it."

that is sorta right, at least in my case. in my gut, i feel there's no god(s). but when i think about, it doesn't make sense to rule out 100% for sure that there isn't a god 'cause what if, you know, he really is omnipotent and hiding himself from us. seems logical to me.

(ok, ok -- i'm just too neurotic and scared to admit there's no god! (~_^) )

Anonymous I said...

"Of course! 100% predictable. Because agnostics ARE atheists, they just don't want to admit it."

Even taking your assumption at face value, does this really make it 100% predictable? Sheesh; atheists and fundamentalists are the sorts of people who are right all the time.


"These differences are quite believable, though know that agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism are those self-reported traits most affected by social desirability (self-deception) and impression management goals (other-deception), and therefore different levels of various kinds of deceptiveness across these groups will lead to a distorted view of the magnitude of difference. Is it plausible that agnostics are less (or perhaps more) self-deceiving or duplicitous than others to your mind? I know of no study which tests this directly, off the top of my head, but it's something to think about."

This is an decent point, Cultural Wallflower - as much as I love personality data because it is, after all, data, self-report questionnaires are still subject to significant sources of systematic error; this can be seen when one notes the strange findings that that US states showing greater Conscientiousness are less healthy, or that East Asian nations are low in Conscientiousness. It is much better if one can combine self-report data with other-report data.

Still, I generally prefer to let the chips fall where they may. If Agnostics are Neurotic, maybe there is a reason. I have read (I cannot remember where) that atheists and theists draw comfort from the certainty of their beliefs; it would seem plausible that gazing nakedly into the unknowable cosmos would leave a person feeling less secure. It is probably much easier to close one's eyes to possibility, and be driven by doctrine rather than data.