Book Review: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) by Susan Cain

April 25, 2013
The author Susan Cain doing her TED talk.

The author Susan Cain doing her TED talk.

A book just about introversion? At first blush, this may seem like a too narrow focus, but according to Cain, this trait is the “single most important aspect of personality.” She makes a good case by listing the various things in life that are linked to the dichotomy of Introversion/Extraversion – choice of friends, career and education, exercise, adultery, risk-taking, delayed gratification, to mention a few.

Why America Became Extraverted

But in spite the many qualities inherent in the introverted mind, American society is still biased in favor of Extraversion, Cain argues. Already in school, the outgoing jocks and cheerleaders are popular while introverts go under labels like nerds or weirdoes, outcasts that most kids avoid. The same attitude can be found among adults, although usually expressed less bluntly. Studies show that talkative people rate as smarter, better-looking, and more interesting than the rest. This bias has even been prominent in psychology and psychiatry where introversion often has been viewed as dysfunctional or outright pathological. Adler is perhaps the best example of the academic bias (in his terminology introverts are called the Avoiding type and extraverts the Socially Useful type).

But things weren’t always like this. Cain points to what historian Warren Susman has called the transition from the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality that took place in America in the early 1900s. This change was supposedly brought on by the industrialization and urbanization. The mass market and city life meant that you had to be able to get along with strangers in a way you never had to when living in a village or a small town. To illustrate the change, Cain presents Susman’s findings on word frequencies in self-help books and advice manuals of earlier times. In the 1800s the words that were most frequent were, Citizenship, Duty, Work, Honor, Integrity and similar. In the early 1900s these words were gradually replaced with others like Magnetic, Fascinating, Stunning, Attractive, Glowing, Dominant, Forceful and so on.

While this shift is interesting, I remain skeptical to the idea that external forces brought on such a dramatic shift in national personality. Given the how heritable personality traits are, and especially how little shared environment means, it seems more likely that this shift was due to an influx of extraverts. The early settlers were Puritans and others who came to practice their religion in peace, and they came from Northwest Europe. This no doubt was a more introverted group than the European average. When large scale immigration resumed around 1830 it wasn’t so much people fleeing religious persecution; it was people who had heard stories about the land of opportunity, and a lot of them came from Southern Europe. This demographic change seems to provide a better explanation to the emerging Culture of Personality, which perhaps more appropriately should be called the Culture of Perception.

The American Business Culture

When you compare America with Europe or the rest of the world, it’s tempting to view extraversion as an important factor in how America became so successful. Cain, however, rejects this idea. She visits Harvard Business School which is obsessed with social activities and perception – “good luck finding an introvert here” one student told her. But in real life, you’ll find loads of successful introverted CEOs, like Bill Gates, Brenda Barnes and many others. Studies linking leadership to extraversion are based on modest correlations and, more damaging, leadership is rated on impression rather than results. The personality of a good leader, Cain says, depends more on the situation. According to result-based studies, introverted leaders are good at handling active employees, putting their ideas to use, while extraverted leaders are better at inspiring passive employees, rallying the troops.

But in the business culture these insights are not taken to heart, most likely because the business world is full of extraverted salespeople who have been told and want to believe that their social skills will bring them to the top. This culture, according to the author, is irrational and destructive in that it is based on faith rather than facts. A typical example is the open office plan, which research show is linked to low productivity, high blood pressure and conflicts in the workplace – but it’s still popular because it promotes the extraverted ideal.

Cain even claims that the current Great Recession we are in right now is largely due to those pesky extraverts. That people who try to warn about potential dangers are seen as weak and ungrateful. She quotes from Kurt Eichenwald’s book Conspiracy of Fools about how when in 2001, Vincent Kaminski, a managing director of Enron, just before the bankruptcy, tried to warn about the problems his company was in and what kind of feedback he received,

There have been some complaints, Vince, that you’re not helping people to do transactions,” the president of Enron told him, according to Conspiracy of Fools, a book about the Enron scandal. “Instead, you’re spending all your time acting like cops. We don’t need cops, Vince.”

And a more general quote directly from Kaminski,

“Many times I have been sitting across the table from an energy trader and I would say, ‘Your portfolio will implode if this specific situation happens.’ And the trader would start yelling at me and telling me I’m an idiot, that such a situation would never happen. The problem is that, on one side, you have a rainmaker who is making lots of money for the company and is treated like a superstar, and on the other side you have an introverted nerd. So who do you think wins?”

I think this part of the book is very interesting, and alarming since we know that this culture is alive and well, eagerly waiting for new opportunities with little concern for the risks involved. You have to wonder if maybe places like Harvard Business School should have a quota for introverts. Not to say that introverts are better at this game – America is a great example of entrepreneurship – but it’s not the 1950s anymore, today’s world is complicated and more caution, reflection and analysis is needed.

The Introverted Ideal

It’s understandable that an introvert living in America feels unappreciated and may want to compensate for this in some ways. But reading this book it’s hard not to feel that Cain is replacing the extraverted bias with an introverted one instead. She constantly talks about the virtues of Introversion. How it’s linked to intellectual and artistic achievements, empathy, integrity, conscientiousness, persistence and so forth. Extraverts, on the other hand are generally described as simple folk who are full of energy but without any judgment or sophistication. No, she doesn’t say that but that’s what it sounds like. The title of the book alone gives you a hint of this: extraverts are the ones who can’t stop talking.

Yes, there is a bias against introverts, and yes we should do something about that. But using that as a cover for unbridled self-glorification is not an improvement.

The Biology of Introversion

More interesting is Cain’s foray into the biological and evolutionary roots of Introversion. Like me, she prescribes to the optimal arousal theory which states that variation on this trait is a matter of sensitivity. An introvert is more easily aroused and will for that reason interact with their environment in a way that keeps stimuli at a low level – staying indoors, having just a few friends they know well etc. But what kind of stimuli are we talking about? Psychologist Hans Eysenck was the first to answer this. He claimed that it was a difference in the Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS) that made some into introverts and other extraverts. Others, like Jerome Kagan has found a correlation between the Fight-or-Flight response and this trait, although since this is an emotional response others have pointed out that this is more related to Neuroticism. Personally, I think a sensitive ARAS could trigger the fight-or-flight response more easily making this response and indirect measure of introversion/extraversion. Then there is the theory of Reward Sensitivity, the idea that extraverts are more rewarded by stimuli. This theory would essentially make Extraversion the same thing as Sensation Seeking – a trait of thrill-seeking and hedonism.

The author presents a lot of interesting research on this although it feels like they are all finding things that relate to this trait without being able to pinpoint it. Introversion is not fearfulness or aggressiveness as measured by the Figh-or-Flight response, and extraversion is not hedonism either – there are plenty of fearful extraverts and hedonistic introverts. The nature of this trait must be something else. I think Eysenck was right on the money with his ARAS theory – at heart it is a simple matter of attention and wakefulness, although all these system appear to interact in complicated ways.

Evolution

As for the evolutionary reason for the Extraversion/Introversion trait, Cain mentions one theory by psychologist Kenneth Olson, who claims that Extraversion is the mark of the migrant, the more fearless person. This, Cain (and presumably Olson) mean, would explain why White people are more extraverted than Blacks or Asians. I can buy that Whites score higher on Extraversion than Asians, but are Africans and their descendants in America and elsewhere really that quiet and reclusive? Are African-American kids bullied in the school yard for being nerdy or socially inept and less cool than the other kids? Perhaps the Big Five, a problematic measure for sure, is to blame, or maybe it’s the incompatibility of cultures, but something is off here.

Still, the difference between America and Europe could well be that those who migrated were more extraverted, more sensation seeking and less fearful than those that stayed behind. But generally speaking I think the theory that evolution favored extraverts in a warmer climate and introverts in a cooler climate makes more sense. Cain practically admits that something like this could be a possibility when she mentions Kagan’s impression that high-reactive children (statistically related to Introversion) tend to have blue eyes more often than low-reactive children. Sadly there is hardly any research on this at all, so there is no way to know for sure. But kudos to Cain (and Kagan) for even talking about such “dangerous” notions.

Cain goes on to present various evolutionary theories. Like the simple but sensible idea that introverts add a bit of caution necessary for the group to survive. A purely extroverted group would crash like Wall Street – but with no one to bail them out.  Or Jung’s idea that Extraversion represents a strategy of high fertility and high mortality and vice versa. This would be in line with the climatic theory but it also fits with the idea that extraverts are pastoralists who are fighting to protect their cattle and most likely stealing other people’s cattle. Introverts would instead be the agriculturalists who will expose themselves to less risk and have fewer children and think more ahead. Cain mentions an interesting study about a gene variant linked to the trait Novelty Seeking, which correlates to both Extraversion and Sensation Seeking. Among Kenyan pastoralists with this variant were found to be better nourished than Kenyan farmers with the same variant. This may lend evidence to the idea that Extraversion is an adaption to a riskier and more improvised way of living. (This is also relevant to my previous post about the trait of Tribalism.)

A Yay or a Nay?

I have mixed feelings about this book. Cain’s idea of introverts as an oppressed minority, although partly true, feels a bit silly. As an introvert I object to her idea that we are “like women in man’s world.” Women are still oppressed and victimized in numerous ways whereas introverts can become both rich and powerful in any culture without anyone objecting to it.

That aside, she does write well, and although theoretically confusing, this book offers a lot of interesting facts, and she even dares to touch on some sensitive issues. So all things considered, it’s a yay.


An Alien Code in Our DNA?

April 18, 2013
"You won't remember any of this."

“You won’t remember any of this.”

According to Discovery News, Kazakh scientists claim that humanity may have been embedded with an alien code in our DNA and that for this reason the search for proof of extra-terrestrial life is more likely to be successful by looking in our genes than at the skies. I have to say I’m a bit astounded – I had no idea there were Kazakh scientists.

Seriously though, it’s an interesting hypothesis. If there is intelligent life out there, it’s fully possible that they are linked to us in some way – that we are related, that they’ve made or somehow manipulated us. Perhaps Charles Fort, the grand old man of all things paranormal, was right in his idea that we are someone’s property. But property or not, you have to wonder what would happen if they were proven right. Chaos and upheaval – or maybe people would calm down after a few weeks realizing that they still need to eat, sleep and work as usual. After all, not even the infamous radio broadcast of HG Well’s The War of the Worlds, declaring that the Earth was about to be invaded by aliens, led to much panic.

Personally I’ve always favoured a different hypothesis – that they could be here with us right now. If that sounds unlikely to you, then look at this experiment on the psychological phenomenon known as change blindness. It clearly illustrates how easily people’s realities can be distorted without them realizing a thing. Imagine what an intelligent life form whose survival depended on not being detected could do.


The Battle of the Giants: Big Five versus MBTI

April 14, 2013

Carl Jung

Kicks Freud’s ass.

If you’re interested in the subject of personality you’ve probably searched for info about it on the internet, and if so you’ve inevitably bumped into the two major models dominating this field – the Big Five and the MBTI. And then you’ve no doubt wondered: which of these is the better? So here is a head-to-head comparison covering the basics. But first a really short presentation of the contenders (or click the Wiki-links above),

The Big Five

The five factor model popularly known as the Big Five is a taxonomy aimed at covering most aspects of personality. It claims to do so with five major factors – Extraversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness and Openness. These traits are pretty much what their names suggest. The Big Five doesn’t theorize about what goes on inside people’s heads; it focuses on actual behaviour. This is reflected in the various measures of the model which features items like, “I enjoy trying new and foreign foods” (a measure of Openness).

MBTI

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the name simultaneously used for a theory and a corresponding measure of personality types, based on a typology introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early 1900s. It characterizes people by their attitude toward the inner and outer world, Extraversion and Introversion (correlates pretty strong with the Big Five Extraversion), and by their cognitive preferences. These preferences are either Perceiving or Judging. The perceiving preferences describe how we take in information either through our senses, called Sensation, or intuiting stuff, called Intuition. The judging preferences describe how we process information using either logic, called Thinking, or a more emotional way through Feeling. The last preferences, called Judgment and Perception, refers to whether we use a judging or perceiving function to deal with the outside world.

Underlying Principles: Cognitive Theory versus Lexical Hypothesis

If you are looking for a way to grasp the organization of personality the MBTI has a clear edge. It’s based on a cognitive theory (outlined above) that explains basic personality traits as arising from differences in how we take in and process information.

The Big Five on the other hand is based on a completely different idea, namely the Lexical Hypothesis, which states that all the important personality traits are encoded in natural language. Proponents of this model have gone through dictionaries and collected all the words describing personality traits and then looked at which are used synonymously, and then applied factor analysis to end up with their five major factors. So it’s a non-theoretical model, a way of sorting traits on a linguistic basis.

In my view, the theoretical basis of the MBTI is a huge advantage, because theories are what we use to understand the world. The Big Five research can only find correlates but not put them into any context – conservatives score high on Conscientiousness, liberals score high on Openness etc. What does it tell us about personality? Not much more can be said because there is no theoretical context. The MBTI on the other hand can note that the liberals score high on intuition and conservatives score high on sensation. And in view of the theory, a liberal attitude can be understood as a way of looking at patterns and possibilities when processing information, a preference that makes for a reformist. In the same way we can understand conservatism as a way of relying more on actual data and for that reason being more interested in building on history and tradition because it contains actual data rather than some scenario of how things might be one day.

You can’t make an analysis like that without a theory and that’s a big win for the MBTI.

Measures: Dimensional versus Typological

The MBTI divides people into types where the Big Five measures traits on a dimensional scale. This is big problem for the MBTI since all existing data suggests that traits are dimensional. The MBTI can’t even produce typological data to reflect their theory, so it uses cut-off points to create types. This sometimes has the consequence that two individuals differing one point on a scale can end up being categorized as different types while two individuals differing 20 points end up as belonging to the same type. This is a huge disadvantage for the MBTI and a reason to be skeptical of your result if you take the test. A measure of the Big Five (or any other dimensional test) will simply show the unadulterated result. Big score for the Big Five.

Research and Development: Science versus Intuition

While the MBTI is commonly used in business, education and Jungian psychology the Big Five dominates in academic research. This may give the impression that this isn’t a contest at all, but rather a matter of whether you appreciate scientific method or not. On closer inspection, this view is false. The reason for this is again the lack of theory. People who have theories – like Marvin Zuckerman, Robert Cloninger and others – reject the Big Five and come up with their own models and measures to test their ideas. They need theoretical models to validate or falsify their theories. Since the Big Five is just a way of sorting traits, the only research that can be done with it is that of listing correlates – like discovering that people scoring high on Conscientiousness clean out their fridges more often than others – if you can call that research. It’s a model for paper-pushers rather than scientists.

The MBTI has a completely different problem. While having the theoretical basis enabling meaningful research, the theory is just too intuitive for its own good. Based on Jung, the godfather of New Age, it has attracted a lot of airy fairy people who have little or no respect for scientific principles and methods. Instead of research and development, the MBTI community has a tradition of epigones adding their own arbitrary twists to the theory. This began when the MBTI added a new dimension (that of Judgment/Perception) to the original theory and it has been followed by much more inferior and convoluted elaborations in the field known as Type Dynamics, which is little more than a modern version of astrology.

While this may seem like a win for the Big Five, I’d call this a draw because listing correlates versus mere speculation are two equally pointless endeavors.

And the Winner Is…

For all its flaws, the winner has to be the MBTI. It all comes back to theory. As a non-theoretical model, the Big Five isn’t inspiring research, only pointless pseudo-research. It doesn’t lead to a better understanding of what personality is about. The MBTI has a comprehensive theory of personality to build on, a theory that has proven validity even in its current form. I believe it can be reformed (or simply replaced by another Jungian model) into something that can inspire more research and a deepened understanding of the workings of personality.


Men Vary More Than Women in Personality

March 11, 2013
I was going to illustrate this post with a variety of men, but everyone was so ugly I chose actress Juliet Landau instead.

I was going to illustrate this post with a variety of men, but everyone was so ugly I chose actress Juliet Landau instead.

It’s well known that men and women differ on some personality traits, most notably neuroticism, when averages are compared. But another way to compare the sexes is by looking at how much men and women vary within their groups. In a new study, psychologists Peter Borkenau, Robert McCrae and Antonio Terracciano have done just that. Using data from 51 cultures with more than 12K participants they have looked at observer ratings of someone each participant knew well. Using a measure of the Big Five, they found that men were generally rated with more variation than women on all traits except neuroticism, which was slightly more varied for women. They also found that women rate people with more variance than men.

Why Would Men Be More Varied?

One possible explanation for this could be evolutionary. While women have a high parental investment, their reproductive success has depended on physical health and social skills. Men have had more ways to be reproductively successful – the can be hunters or gatherers, leaders, highly organized, manipulative etc. Since all of these strategies relate to personality this would mean that more variation in traits would be selected for among men than women.

A case could also be made for gender roles influencing variance – men are simply allowed a broader range of behaviors than women. This is one of those nature/nurture questions – do social norms form behavior or does behavior form the norms? One way to settle this question (in this instance) would be to look at variation in behavior that violates social norms. This can be easily found in personality disorders, conditions that constitute extreme and maladaptive personalities. These are much more common among men than women, and a big reason why the prison population is made up to 90-95 percent by men. Their behavior is extreme and unacceptable, contradicting the idea that social norms can explain the variance. So more likely, this is a product of evolution. This of course all depends on if you view personality disorders as extreme variants of normal personality or not, but both behavioral and genetic links between the two suggest that they are.

Why Do Women Give More Varied Ratings?

This may relate to the fact that women varied more on neuroticism, a trait relating to social interactions. It may be that their social skills – observation of others no doubt being a crucial part of these skills – make them more accurate judgers of personality. The authors refer to other research that has reached this conclusion. Which makes me wonder: if women are better judges of character, why aren’t they the preferred choice of raters in personality research? It’s also interesting to note how few women there are in this field given that they are superior to men in this very fundamental aspect.

Is Male Variation a Good Thing?

Given what I just said about the prison population, it’s far from certain that this male variation in personality is a good thing, neither for the individual nor for society.  After all, evolution is not adaptive in the short term; there are plenty of examples of how our evolutionary nature collides with the modern environment, obesity being the most obvious. That said, crime is far from the only aspect of this variation. According to the study it concerns four of five basic factors of personality. Luckily the study included some social variables. Here is what they found,

The sex differences in variability in personality were more pronounced in the more developed, more gender-egalitarian, and more individualistic societies.

This suggests that male variation is a good thing. One explanation could be that nations compete with ideas. And variety in personality means a variety in how people in a country think, which makes for a variety of ideas that in turn translates to wealth. This variation largely coincides with IQ measure of different countries so it’s a little hard tell exactly how much of the wealth is due to intelligence and how much is due to variety.

Why Do Countries Vary in Variety?

This is probably something those Human Biodiversity buffs might have an answer to. It seems likely that inbreeding would reduce variance as well as intelligence. In line with this idea, Muslim countries (known for very high levels of inbreeding and low IQs) had on the average a lower level of male variance  and those who were above average were very close to it. Some countries break this pattern by showing little male variance but high IQ levels, most notably Hong Kong and Japan. But overall, variety seems to be of great importance. This is a field of research that is still pretty new so it will be interesting to see where it leads. No doubt some traits will be more important than others, and some of these may not be captured in the Big Five model. Honesty/humility and sensation seeking come to mind. And different combinations of traits might also be important. I’ll get back to this if I find something interesting in the numbers.

 


The Study on Intelligence and Religion That You Weren’t Supposed to Hear About

March 5, 2013
Yoda - the beautiful union of intelligence and spirituality (and possibly also dyslexia).

Yoda – the beautiful union of intelligence and spirituality (and possibly also dyslexia).

Numerous studies have consistently arrived at one and the same conclusion: religious people are less intelligent than atheists. So maybe we should accept this fact and move on. Nah, just kidding. On the contrary, when behavioural scientists all come up with the same result it’s time to get suspicious. The normal thing in this field is a variety of results.

So, now that we’re all duly suspicious, the next step is critical scrutiny. I’ll just look at some of the major studies in recent time, but it should give you an idea of the situation.

Nyborg

In 2008Danish psychologist Helmut Nyborg conducted a study that showed that atheists scored an average of 1.95 IQ points higher than agnostics, 3.82 points higher than liberal persuasions, and 5.89 IQ points higher than dogmatic persuasions. This may sound impressive but Nyborg’s sample was made up of children age 12-17. It is well known that both intelligence and personality are under much larger environmental influence during childhood than in adulthood. Nyborg himself noted that religion declines under this period but failed to see how this makes the study flawed. Whatever the environmental factor is – peer pressure, rebellion etc – it decreases with time. This sort of short-term environmental influence goes for intelligence as well. It becomes stable once you reach young adulthood. So young people make a horrible sample for making general conclusions of how religion and intelligence might be related.

Lynn

The same year British psychologist Richard Lynn (together with Nyborg) conducted a similar study. He simply compared the national averages of intelligence and rates of disbelief in God in 137 nations, making up 95 percent of the world’s population. Lynn found a very high correlation of 0.6 between these two variables. While this design appears to give the final answer, it is in fact measuring widely different countries which makes it very problematic. On such problem is that if we look at the big picture most nations in the world have an IQ close to 100 and then we have the Muslim nations that average around 80-85. So a large part of Lynn’s findings is about Islam, not religion in general.  If we restrict this sample to Western nations the correlation drops to 0.42. Lynn also admits that the surveys on religious disbelief may have problems with low response rates, being representative of the population etc. It remains an open question how much further the correlation would drop if we could adjust for this factors but we can’t so it really isn’t more than guesswork.

Kanazawa

The third major study in recent years was conducted by Japanese psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, who of course corrected the persistent flaw of using children in his samples. Well, kind of. He used participants aged 18-28 to measure religiousness but then took the same participants IQs at age 12-17 so it’s not much of an improvement. His sample was also the 75 percent remains of an original sample which leaves the question of how representative it was open. Kanazawa also made another mistake in how he measured religiousness. Rather than using a multidimensional test to separate quality and quantity he merely had people answer how religious they were on a scale from 1 to 5.  A fundamentalist will no doubt claim to be “very religious” and score a 5. If his intelligence is low (and there is something to suggest this, more on that later on) then that would contribute to the relation between religion and IQ by suggesting that a non-fundamentalist is essentially the same kind of person but with a slightly weaker faith. There are various ways a person can be religious but Kanazawa suggests this is a matter of degrees and in doing so everyone gets to be stupid on behalf of the fundamentalist. Furthermore he uses a simple vocabulary test as a proxy for IQ. Given all these problems, Kanazawa finds that atheists average around 103 in IQ and the very religious at 97. With all the crap he has been pulling I suspect even his fans were a little disappointed with such a meagre result.

Gary J. Lewis?

Although these three studies have been very publicized and quoted, there was a study conducted by psychologist Gary J. Lewis and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh in 2011 that never got much attention. This study actually used an adult sample (mean age 48), measured several aspects of religion and featured a composite measure of intelligence. It did have some limitations in that the sample was mainly White and only concerned itself with Christianity. But it should provide a pretty good picture of the relation between Christianity and intelligence among White Americans.  An especially interesting feature was that it controlled for the personality trait Openness to experience, relevant to both intelligence and religiousness.  So what did they find? Well, they did actually find that religious people are less intelligent, but the results may still come as a surprise. Here is the gist of it from the article,

 The results indicated that intelligence is significantly negatively associated with five of the six measures of religious belief, confirming previous work (Bertsch & Pesta, 2009; Kanazawa, 2010; Lynn et al.,2009; Nyborg, 2009). Certainty about these findings is enhanced by the fact that, in the present study, these relationships to intelligence remained after we controlled for both openness and education, two potentially confounding factors. It should be noted, however, that the effect sizes were small for all associations with intelligence, the largest being the modest intelligence–fundamentalism link (β=−.13), with all other associations estimated at less than β=−.10.

Note the level of these correlations. It’s a well-known fact that variables of this kind always correlate with each other so small correlations are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Here is one take on correlation levels from David Buss & Randy Larsen’s textbook (which I highly recommend) Personality Psychology: Domains of Knowledge About Human Nature (2010),

Although what is considered large or small depends on many factors, social scientists have adopted a general convention. Correlations around .10 are considered small; those around .30 are considered medium; and those around .50 or greater are considered large (Cohen & Cohen, 1975).

So, four of six measures of religiousness showed less than small correlations, a level you might call negligible. Spirituality was unrelated to intelligence, and, perhaps most surprising, fundamentalism (of the Christian variety that is) showed only a small correlation of -0.13.

We Are All Stupid in Our Own Way (Except Me)

Now, the higher quality of this study means that the correlation can be taken more seriously. But at the same time the result indicate that not even the fundamentalists are very unintelligent. This may seem puzzling but fundamentalists are mainly considered stupid because the deviate from the norm.  Consider for instance the mainstream delusions of Optimist Bias. This refers to how ordinary people have an optimism which goes against common sense. Typically the majority of all people believe that they have a lower than average risk of becoming alcohol dependent, catch an STD or have a heart attack. This rosy outlook is of course mathematically impossible but those who engage in this sort of thinking are not in general considered stupid, most likely because they are in majority.

And What About Openness?

I almost forgot the interesting trait known as openness which is known to be related to intelligence as well as a liberal attitude. It was actually slightly related to two measures of religiousness, spirituality and mindfulness, while unrelated to the others, with the exception of fundamentalism which it was slightly inversely linked to (-0.12) – which is pretty much what you’d expect. Another interesting finding is that fundamentalism was unrelated to both sex and gender, contradicting the notion of this person as a middle-aged or older man.

Hopefully, there will be more high-quality studies like this one to put the religious-people-are-so-stupid research to rest. The interactions of intelligence, religiousness and personality are very interesting and deserve a better fate than to be skewed and dumbed down for ideological purposes.


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