Emerging church blogger Matt Stone recently posted some extracts from a 2005 article in the Journal of Parapsychology entitled “Personality and motivations to believe, misbelieve and disbelieve in paranormal phenomena”. As the title indicates, the article discusses how personality (e.g. Myers-Briggs types) affects one’s tendency towards skepticism or belief in what they call “psi”, i.e. psychic phenomenon. I’ve not read the entire article (it’s rather long) but the excerpts on Stone’s blog are fascinating. Here’s a few quotes:
Paranormal beliefs and experiences are associated with certain personality factors, including absorption, fantasy proneness, and the Myers-Briggs intuition and feeling personality dimensions. Skepticism appears to be associated with materialistic, rational, pragmatic personality types. Attitude toward psi may also be influenced by motivations to have control and efficacy, to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Research studies have found that belief in paranormal phenomena is associated with the N and F personality factors…. In a study of a technique attempting to induce a sense of contact with someone who had died, 96% of the participants with NF personality types reported after-death contact experiences, whereas 100% of the participants with ST (sensing, thinking) personality types did not have these experiences….
Interestingly, and contrary to what some have suggested, the article states that a strong desire for control is actually more common among skeptics than among psi-believers. It says:
Skeptics also tend to have a greater internal locus of control (belief that they control the events in their lives) than those who believe in psi…. This is consistent with a stronger motivation for control by skeptics or possibly with less belief in supernatural influences.
…The initial evidence suggests that skeptics may tend to have a greater need for control. In fact, the speculations that an illusion of control is a significant factor in psi beliefs have primarily been proposed by skeptics and may be projections of their own needs for control.
If one moves beyond the motivation for control and looks at psi on its own terms, a different motivation emerges as prominent. Many people report experiences of ostensible spontaneous paranormal phenomena that occur without attempting to elicit or control the phenomena…. Even a casual review of these reports indicates that the experiences do not seem to be guided by self-serving, materialistic motivations or needs for control.
Research indicates the primary effect of psi experiences is an altered worldview and an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life and spirituality….
It is also important to note that this article is specifically correlating personality with belief in psi, not with religion in general. In fact it notes that the more skeptical personality types (STJs) are often found in authoritarian religious circles.
People with STJ personality types tend to rise to positions of leadership and authority in hierarchical organizations…. Fudjack and Dinkelaker (1994) noted that the masculine “extraverted/rational-empirical/pragmatic/ materialist” ESTJ personality is prominent in western culture and tends to prefer hierarchical organizations that emphasize power and control rather than creativity and flexibility. Kroeger, Thuesen, and Rutledge (2002) administered the Myers-Briggs personality test to over 20,000 people in all levels of a wide variety of corporate, government, and military organizations. Across these diverse groups, they found that 60% of 2,245 people in top executive positions had STJ personalities (ESTJ or ISTJ). The proportion of STJ types increased as the level on the management hierarchy increased.
Research indicates that the S personality types are associated with conservative religions that emphasize institutional religious authority and tradition whereas the intuitive (N) types are associated with more liberal, subjective, experiential approaches to religion and tolerance for religious uncertainty…. Similarly, greater dogmatism was associated with the S and J personality types….
Other personality models describe related factors like authoritarianism, traditionalism, or right-wing authoritarianism…. Altemeyer (1996) argued that fundamentalism is a religious manifestation of the authoritarian personality. Monaghan (1967) described “authority-seeker” as one of the main motivations for attending a fundamentalist church.
Fundamentalist religions often consider mystical or paranormal experiences as delusions or dangerous events.
All this of course raises some interesting questions about the degree to which personality type influences one’s proclivity towards certain worldviews, whether atheism, authoritarian religion, belief in paranormal phenomenon, or whatever else. For instance, the commentary on Stone’s blog below the article notes, anecdotally, that most people in the emerging church tend to be NFs or NTs (which has certainly been true in my experience – for instance I am an INTJ and my wife is an INFP). I’m curious, for those of you here who have taken the Myers-Briggs test, what is your personality type? If the research plays out, one would predict that most here are probably at least S types.
(Note: most of the ellipses in the quotes above are where I took out the citations to improve readability. If you’re interested in the citations backing up these statements, see the original post.)