A study has revealed that non-believers assume that people who go to church or other places of worship are 'close minded', and they would find this personality trait more off-putting in a partner than their religious views.
In two studies researchers created a number of dating profiles for both religious and non-religious individuals and asked volunteers from a range of religious and non-religious backgrounds to rate them for attractiveness. The dating profiles revealed how often an individual attended religious services, if at all. The most devout individuals profiled, who said they worshipped every week or more, were perceived to be the most close minded by the non-religious people taking part in the study. However, when the profiles of religious individuals also mentioned statements about their openness to new experiences, this negative bias was reduced. The study explains why some people are not attracted to 'religious types', concluding it is because they expect particular personality traits. The findings are published in the early online version of the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Firstly, 60 student volunteers filled in questionnaires in which they were asked to identify their own religion, if any. They then rated the 'typical Christian' and the 'typical atheist' for personality traits: 'conscientiousness', 'openness to new experiences', 'agreeableness', 'extroversion' and 'neuroticism'. The researchers found that the non-religious students believed non-religious people were significantly more open to new experiences than 'religious' individuals. Religious volunteers did not distinguish between Christians and atheists to the same degree when asked the same question about openness. All the students agreed that religious rather than non-religious individuals would be significantly more agreeable.
Around 70 students gave feedback on 20 dating profiles created by the researchers, which carried information about how often that person went to religious services (without identifying the religion). The responses were coded with information given by the students about their own religious background. The researchers discovered that as the religious behaviour of those profiled increased, non-religious participants assumed they would be increasingly less open to new experiences and they were less desirable as potential partners. Meanwhile, religious participants showed the opposite preferences.
In another experiment, however, the profiles explicitly mentioned their view on openness, with statements such as 'I don’t pretend my ethical perspective is the only one'. The religiosity bias was reduced: non-religious volunteers found the religious individuals on the profiles more attractive, but religious volunteers found them slightly less attractive. Further analysis suggested that all the volunteers agreed that non-religious individuals are relatively more open-minded, but not on whether open mindedness is a good thing.
Co-author Dr Jonathan Jong, from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford, said: 'We already know about racial and gender stereotypes, but here we have uncovered evidence of a stereotype of the close minded, conservative religious believer. Interestingly, the study suggests our level of attraction is based on the implied personality traits, specifically the openness, rather than wanting partners who share our religious beliefs and behaviours per se. Openness and perhaps other inferences too are only part of the story, of course, but this research suggests that we should look beyond religious belief on its own as a main factor in who we choose to date.'
Researcher Professor Jamin Halberstadt, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, said: 'Our studies show for the first time that people’s decision to partner with religious or non-religious individuals can be determined by the personal traits that religiosity is believed – rightly or wrongly – to predict, rather than religion itself.'