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Thursday, 17 December 2009

Personality Types mapped to Positions on Origins: Student Survey Results

This is a guest post by Marlowe C. Embree. Marlowe teaches psychology at the University of Wisconsin Colleges and published the 7-part series The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate last fall. He is currently conducting some original research on whether personality differences affect a person’s conclusions regarding creation and evolution, and how likely they are to change their views. This post is the second in a 3-part series where Marlowe shares some of the findings of his research.

In my first post, I presented some introductory data relating to the prevalence among college students of four different views of origins (creationism, theistic evolution, secular evolution, and “other”). In this post, I will address the question of personality type and its possible influence on which view a given student might choose to adopt.

In reviewing the material below, a few significant points should be clearly understood. My research should not be construed as an attempt to dismiss the validity of any of the views of origins on the grounds that they are in some way a mere artifact of personality. Psychological research can never, within its own proper universe of discourse, pass judgment on the validity of a person’s ideas; what it can do is elucidate reasons why different people have a tendency to gravitate to different views. Social psychologists speak of the Verstehen-Erklären distinction to distinguish between an attempt to understand something “from the inside” (sympathetically or emically) and an attempt to explain away something “from the outside” (critically or etically). Philosophically and personally, my sympathies are with the former. Those who seek to use my work to disparage or discredit the worldview perspectives of others have completely missed the spirit of my research.

A) Personality Diversity and Cognitive Styles

Many different factors likely influence the viewpoint an individual comes to hold on the origins debate, including but not limited to cultural socialization, religious or nonreligious self-identification, and level and type of education, just to name a few. One potential influence that, to date, has not been extensively explored has to do with personality differences and the possible link between these differences and variations in information processing and cognitive styles. My research examines potential relationships between personality diversity, as viewed from a Jungian perspective and operationalized by means of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and student views of the origins debate.

a. Background on the Jungian Model
Jung proposed that four irreducible functions underlie all mental activity. In the standard Myers-Briggs terminology, they are known as Sensing (S), iNtuition (N), Thinking (T), and Feeling (F).

Both Sensing and iNtuition are means of gathering information about the world without otherwise analyzing or prioritizing it. As such, they are opposing forms of Perceiving (P). Sensing involves a here-and-now, observant focus on present realities as they present themselves to the five senses; hence, individuals who emphasize Sensing as their means of information-gathering tend to become practical, detail-minded, concrete, and application-oriented. In contrast, iNtuition involves a broad-brush, conceptual or imaginative focus on future possibilities as they arise from the unconscious mind or by means of a “sixth sense”; hence, individuals who prefer iNtuition are likely to become creative, big-picture, abstract, and theory-oriented.

Once information is gathered, it can be evaluated or assessed using either of two so-called Judging (J) functions, either Thinking or Feeling. Thinking involves an impersonal, objective analysis with a focus on causes and effects, leading to an orientation among those who prefer Thinking that is calm, consistent, logical, and efficient. Feeling, on the other hand, involves a personal, subjective assessment focused on personal and collective values, producing among those who prefer Feeling a style that is sensitive, individualizing, empathic, and harmony-seeking. However, it should be carefully noted that Thinking does not mean intellect (there are no correlations between T-F and IQ, for instance) and Feeling does not have emotion (both Ts and Fs have emotions, but manage them differently).

Each of these functions can be expressed either in an outward-looking, Extraverted fashion or an inward-looking, Introverted manner, and one of these two modes dominates the entire personality. Finally, a person can either be drawn to closure and structure (a so-called Judging type) or to openness and flexibility (a so-called Perceiving type) in the conduct of their outer lives. Thus, the four possible preferences (E or I, S or N, T or F, J or P) together yield 16 possible psychological types (e.g., INFP). The relative prevalence of the sixteen psychological types in my research sample is presented in Table 3. Isabel Briggs Myers and others have confirmed that liberal arts students tend to be disproportionately NF, so this type distribution is not surprising.

b. Current Consensus of relationship between Personality Types and Religion
The existing type literature strongly suggests a consistent relationship between Feeling and religion (formal citations are not provided in this overview, but are readily available upon request). Most religious leaders and most self-identified religious persons have a higher probability of a Feeling preference than the general population, whereas secularists tend to prefer Thinking. The Sensing-iNtuition preference appears to relate to the conservative-liberal disparity within religious circles, with Sensing types more likely to adhere to conservative forms of religion and iNtutive types more likely to identify with liberal forms. Thus, the main hypotheses of this study refer to the four so-called functional combinations (Sensing-Thinking, Sensing-Feeling, iNtution-Thinking, and iNtuition-Feeling). It would be expected that creationists would be disproportionately SF, theistic evolutionists disproportionately NF (and perhaps NT), and secular evolutionists disproportionately ST (and perhaps NT).

B) Relationship between Personality Type and Attitudes to Origins: Initial Results

The Thinking-Feeling and Judging-Perceiving dimensions yielded statistically significant differences among the four worldview groups (see Table 4).

CR and TE respondents were statistically higher in Feeling, and SE and OT respondents higher in Thinking, suggesting that theists vs. nontheists utilize strikingly different ways of turning inputs (data) into conclusions. This may suggest an underlying genetic propensity to view the world in either personal or impersonal ways.

CR and SE respondents, though opposite in many respects, were statistically higher in Judging, while TE and OT respondents were higher in Perceiving. This makes sense given that Judgers seek closure and certainty (whether theistic or atheistic certainty) that might preclude seeing any value in their opponents’ positions, while Perceivers seek openness and flexibility (which might include a desire to find value in both sides of a debate or a tendency to presume that no simple answers can be correct).

By a Self-Selection Ratio (SSR) criterion (a common comparative statistic utilized in typological research), each worldview was characteristically adopted by different types (see Table 5). Creationists are most likely to be ISFJ or ESFJ, among the most traditional and group-minded of the types. Secular evolutionists are most likely to be INTJ or ENTJ, among the most iconoclastic and individualistic of the types. Theistic evolutionists are most likely to be ISFP or INFP, among the most tender-minded and harmony-seeking of the types. Thus, individuals’ core motives may shape their worldview preferences in interesting ways.

C) Next Post

This research may suggest that some (by no means all!) cultural disputes about origins may reflect “arguments about the shape of the table”, in which each disputant defaults to his or her dominant cognitive posture (as determined by her/his personality type). This may encourage a greater willingness to find value in the ideas of others with whom one disagrees, and may suggest a way to disagree more respectfully. Indeed, one goal of my research is to demonstrate that what appear to be disputes about specific issues are often meta-disputes in disguise, in which each party is really defending his or her own characteristic mental process. If the real issue is one of process (how one thinks), apparent disputes about content (what one thinks) will be permanently unresolvable. My last post will address questions about the relationships between mental process and mental content among students.


Anonymous said...

You noted that ---

“This makes sense given that Judgers seek closure and certainty (whether theistic or atheistic certainty) that might preclude seeing any value in their opponents’ positions, while Perceivers seek openness and flexibility (which might include a desire to find value in both sides of a debate or a tendency to presume that no simple answers can be correct).”

Maybe a little off topic but have there been MB studies on a group of scientists? I’d presume they’d come out high on the judging side --- but on the otherhand science is all about “openness and flexibility” when seeking conclusions.

Don A.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

Here are SSR values for a group of scientists and a group of clergy members, both from Macdaid et al. (1991). The higher the SSR value, the greater the "type imbalance" or propensity of this group to have that type preference.

Scientists: I 1.18, N 1.24, T 1.56, J 1.16

Clergy: E 1.23, N 1.51, F 1.85, J 1.10

As in my study, both are J, but scientists are strongly T and clergy are strongly F.

ichthus888 said...

This is very interesting, but I must admit to being somewhat skeptical. I'm INFJ on Myers-Briggs, so this suggests I ought to be SE, but am in fact TE (Christian theist).

Perhaps, my preferences allowed greater openness to the concept of God in the first instance, but it has no bearing whatsoever on the creation/evolution issue. Frankly, if more Christians were biblically trained the whole problem would not arise (speaking as someone with a degree and masters in Biblical Studies and Theology [BA/ThM - UK]). Genesis reflects Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, not a technology manual of God's "How to make a Universe.." Such information - not the preferences of temperament - dictate how the biblical narratives must be understood in context.

As such, was the level of biblical education and literacy factored into how theists' responded? If not, does it not lessen the strength of any findings on the theist positions? Rather than reflecting personality preferences, it may simply say more about the theists' knowledge (or ignorance) of the meaning of their own biblical texts.

I don't mean to be too critical, but this does seem to be a convoluting factor which wasn't mentioned (maybe I missed it somewhere).

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

Personality isn't a deterministic influence, but it does (I think I can reasonably claim on the basis of the data) meaningfully impact the kinds of data we find relevant and the ways in which we weight, combine, and process that data.

Remember, my research isn't about whose views are more justified or valid (to decide that, one must have a consensual method for addressing such questions - a method that is, in part, a product of how one naturally processes information). My notion is that we all tend to default to our natural style of processing information when dealing with questions of that sort.

Of course, many other factors other than personality are equally relevant, but I never claimed that they were not. I didn't even begin to study the plethora of other factors (age, education, prior religious socialization, and so on) that obviously would also impact how people address such issues.

I'm not claiming to explain the whole pie, but only to eludicate one slice of the pie - a slice that happens to be of interest to me.

Besides, if I did manage to convince an INTJ or INFJ, that would be a miracle! (How people react to what I'm saying here will also be mediated by their personality type - an indirect confirmation of the model's validity and utility). Independence of thought is part of your makeup, and is something to be celebrated (for those of your type).

As an INFP, I naturally see things a bit differently. That's something to be celebrated, too.

Steve Martin said...

Hi jonathan,

I think the key point is that personality, as Marlowe pointed out, is not deterministic. That is a good thing for me, since depending on the day-of-the-week I take the MB test, I think I am something between a INTJ and ENTJ – the two quadrants most likely to be SE.

Marlowe: Thanks for the answers to Don’s question above. Very interesting that clergy and scientists traditionally both score NJ but have (pretty strong?) differences in the FT category. Makes me wonder how those rare-bird scientist-clergymen like Polkinghorne would score.

Also, you mentioned “genetic propensity” in the OP. Have there been studies that tie specific genetic mappings (biology) to personality mappings (psychology) in some cases?

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

I'm not aware of any genetic-personality studies other than the connection between the two forms of the D4DR gene and extraversion-introversion, which is well understood. On the other hand, there is good evidence of a neurology-personality link, which is best understood for E-I, but also somewhat understood for S-N (probably related to hemispheric lateralization). Regrettably, those interested in both Jung and genetics are rare indeed. My technical knowledge of genetics is mostly restricted to having my own DNA.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

OBTW, in future research I hope to ask members of different type/worldview combinations how they came to the conclusions about origins that they have. Since type is probably more determinative of process than content (content = a combination of data inputs and type-based processing methods), this should prove even more compelling. Those among you who know your type - though comments here seem a bit numerically sparse, sadly - might want to comment about how you see your type as having influenced your own conclusions.

As an F, I'm aware of my tendency to care more about defending core values than about dispassionate weighing of evidence. Naturally I try to moderate that when doing (or assessing) science!

As a P, I'm always scandalized by people's (to me) rigid postures on things. FPs can be rigid, too, but only when a line has been crossed (the violation of a core value).

Dennis Venema said...

Solidly INTP here. Analyze as you wish...

Thanks for posting this, Marlowe - very interesting indeed.

Danielle said...

INTJ (female), checking in.

Due to religious background, I was initially a creationist and enjoyed trying to demonstrate how logical my view of origins was. This was reinforced, in part, by a view that the 'establishment' was biased against my worldview, or had their conclusions determined by theirs. That is to say, they were supposedly 'irrational' whereas I imagined myself to applying common sense to problems.

Later I studied the evidence for evolution more thoroughly and concluded that my previous position was untenable intellectually. Thus I am now some type of theistic evolutionist, although I find Richard Dawkin's arguments to be elegant and even compelling at times.

I have over time developed a healthy scepticism about the limits of human knowledge. Thus I crave certainty but despair of obtaining it. However, my NT impulses do make me something of a collector and systematizer of beliefs, data, etc. I want things to make "sense." Thus I wind up making statements that sound like this: "I can know with reasonable certainty that certain knowledge on x topic is impossible. However, by putting different factors together we can see how several elegant belief systems or solutions are possible ... "

Anyway, very interesting findings!

Anna said...

Interesting line or arguments

Anonymous said...

It was stated that there is no connection between T-J and IQ, yet many studies show INTJ to have the highest probability of having 130+ IQ out of all types, and indeed T-J types in general have the highest probability, with S-F types having the lowest.