Thursday, July 07, 2011

Belief in God and MPQ Traits

The Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ) is an alternative to the Big 5. In the analyses that I have conducted, MPQ traits have been more predictive of outcomes than the Big 5. I calculated means for atheists, agnostics, those with no religious preference, and all others (sample size = 3,946). 

Mean MPQ scores

No religious preference 8.76
Atheist 9.07
Agnostic 9.13
Others 8.99

Social Potency (likes to take charge)
No religious preference 10.29
Atheist 10.73
Agnostic 10.60
Others 10.20

No religious preference 12.18
Atheist 12.61 
Agnostic 12.35
Others 12.25

Social Closeness (likes to be with others)
No religious preference 11.03*
Atheist 10.71*
Agnostic 10.32*
Others 11.94

Reactivity (easily upset)
No religious preference 6.30
Atheist 5.17*
Agnostic 6.62
Others 6.19

Aggression (confrontational)
No religious preference 5.74*
Atheist 5.40
Agnostic 5.53
Others 5.38

Alienation (life is unfair to me)
No religious preference 5.21
Atheist 4.21*
Agnostic 4.72
Others 5.14

Control (plans before acting)
No religious preference 9.45*
Atheist 9.56
Agnostic 9.47
Others 9.79

No religious preference 6.75*
Atheist 4.88*
Agnostic 5.53*
Others 8.66

Harm avoidance
No religious preference 11.57*
Atheist 9.93*
Agnostic 11.07*
Others 12.13

*significantly different from "Others" group

Compared to people who have a religion, those with no preference are significantly less social, more confrontational, less planful, much less traditional, and more danger-seeking. The image that emerges here is a lone rebel.

Turning to atheists, they are less social, less likely to get upset, less likely to think life is unfair to them, much less traditional, and more danger-seeking. Atheists seem like a milder version of those with no preference: solitary, danger-seeking, anti-traditionals who are not confrontational, who plan ahead, and who don't think the world has given them a raw deal. 

Agnostics are less social, less traditional, and more danger-seeking. All three non-religious categories have three traits is common: they don't like people as well; they really dislike tradition and authority; and they like risk more than others.

I don't see any necessary connection between disbelief and anti-traditionalism--I certainly did not dislike religion or tradition when I was a skeptic--but they are psychologically like oil and water.


  1. I found a paper on interpreting personality quiz data via "spectral clustering", and wondered whether you find that kind of thing interesting.


  2. Stephen7:41 PM

    The alienation "life is unfair to me" result is a bit odd.

    I'd have guessed religious types would score lower than athiests because scoring high is the same as saying "My God isn't giving me a helping hand".

    Or is the causation running in the other direction - life is unfair to me so I'll support a God in the hope that it'll make everything better?

    The above hypothesis might be supported by the similarly high no-religious-preference score - life is unfair to them but they haven't yet made the choice to sign up with a god in the hope that their new best friend will provide a helping hand.

  3. Anonymous3:20 AM

    I'd certainly expect traditionalism to be associated with religious people. In america, and most cultures, following a religion is traditional, and not doing so shows lack of loyalty to your family/group.

  4. Anonymous10:32 PM

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  5. Religion is traditional. You have to be anti-traditional to be an atheist in America, I think, except for the small number of atheists raised in strongly atheist households.

  6. Zachary12:00 AM

    Thanks so much for this article, pretty useful material.
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