What Does the Research About Personality Show Us?
Research studies have consistently shown an association (a correlation) between personality and political and religious views. Conservatives are different from liberals. Likewise the non-religious, the mainline religious, and the fundamentalist religious differ from one another.
These studies have found that certain types of personality traits are more likely to found among one group of people than in others. Correlation does not mean that everyone in a particular group has the trait associated with that group—political and religious identity is complicated and dependent on more than just personality. And most importantly, correlation is not causation.
How can we explain these correlations? (1) Does a certain type of person choose to become part of a particular group? (2) Does being a member of a particular group mold one’s personality in a particular way? (3) Are the correlations spurious—is a third factor that is correlated with both personality and politics/religion is causing the latter to be correlated with the former? (4) Do people chose to belong to groups where there are a lot of people like themselves? (5) Is there a feedback loop wherein being a member of a group causes a change in one’s personality so that the person more closely resembles the norm for the group?.
How is Personality Measured?
Most research in this area asks the study subjects to take a personality test and also assesses their political or religious beliefs through a series of questions.
There are two main types of tests used to assess personality. One is the Meyers-
Briggs Assessment and the other is the Big Five Factors or the Hexaco Test. (These last two are very similar so for convenience I will lump them together.)
The Meyers Briggs Assessment measures eight personality traits using four pairs of traits consisting of one trait and its opposite trait. Each trait is denoted by a letter. The four pairs are
- Extraversion (E) – Introversion (I) (Where you focus your attention)
- Sensing (S) – Intuition (N) (The way you take in information)
- Thinking (T) – Feeling (F) (How you make decisions)
- Judging (J) – Perceiving (P) (How you deal with the world)
The end result is 16 personality types assigned according to which one of the traits from the eight pairs is dominant. For instance, I am a ENTJ, described at the “Commander”—a bold, imaginative, strong-willed leader.
Since 16 types can be a little unwieldy, they are often reduced to four broad types, by assigning each of the 16 types into one of four broad types. These four types are:
- Analysts (Intuitive and Thinking)
- Diplomats (Intuitive and Feeling)
- Sentinels (Sensing and Judging)
- Explorers (Sensing and Perceiving)
For example, since I am a ENTJ, I belong to the “Analysts” category.
My Meyers Briggs personality identification probably explains why I worked in the field of market research my whole life and ran my own market research company for the last 25 years.
The “Big Five” personality traits (as quoted from Wikipedia) are:
- Openness to experience: inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious
- Conscientiousness: efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless
- Extraversion: outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved
- Agreeableness: friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached
- Neuroticism: sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident
The Hexaco traits (as quoted from Wikipedia) are:
- Honesty-Humility (H): sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous
- Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable
- Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved
- Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric
- Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded
- Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional