The Personality Traits That Drive Dogmatism

The fundamental difference between religious and nonreligious rationalization, according to science.

Nobody likes a know-it-all. Regardless of whether or not their unwavering opinions are grounded in truth. Nevertheless, we all have opinions that we grip onto until our fingers turn white, our teeth clench, and all our friends have long grown tired of our spiel.

In 2017, the chasm between extreme perspectives seems to be growing wider by the day. The stark polarity of the “other” has become unwilling if not unable to be breached. According to two recent surveys conducted by Case Western Reserve University, this dynamic owes itself to the differing methods that the religious and nonreligious use to rationalize beliefs. While both groups employ critical thinking in a similar manner when expressing their beliefs, they differ in how they use moral behaviors to justify their actions.

“Emotional resonance helps religious people to feel more certain — the more moral correctness they see in something, the more it affirms their thinking,” said Jared Friedman, a Ph.D. student in organizational behavior and co-author of the studies. Conversely, nonreligious people find moral concerns to be cause for doubt.

These findings propose that bridging the gap between these two extremes involves stressing the moral concerns of a situation to a religious believer, while using unemotional logic when attempting to persuade a nonreligious individual. Jack also warned against offering unmoderated empathy, “Terrorists, within their bubble, believe it’s a highly moral thing they’re doing. They believe they are righting wrongs and protecting something sacred.”

Today’s political players are skillfully adopting these linguistic tricks to appeal to their audience. For instance, Jack points out that the Trump administration capitalizes on its religious followers by presenting alternative facts that appeal to them emotionally but neglect facts. On the opposite side of the coin, atheists who laud critical thinking, “may lack the insight to see anything positive about religion; they can only see that it contradicts their scientific, analytical thinking.”

Based on surveys of over 900 people, the two studies also revealed a few other significant similarities and differences between the religious and nonreligious:

  1. In both groups, the most dogmatic individuals were less skilled at analytical thinking.
  2. The religious participants in the studies presented higher levels of dogmatism, empathetic concern, and prosocial intentions overall.
  3. The nonreligious performed better in analytical reasoning overall.

These studies affirm earlier work that suggests two distinct networks in the brain—one for empathy and the other for analytical thinking. Although the two are often at odds with one another, healthy people cycle between the two depending on what issues they are considering. Dogmatists, either religious or nonreligious, do not possess this healthy fluctuation. Instead, they cling to their preferred pathway.

Researchers noted that the findings of this study are applicable beyond religion. The logic applies to any core beliefs—whether you’re going to church or going vegan. The way we talk about our opinions matter, but the way we justify them may prove even more significant.


Learning This Simple Skill Will Make You an Exceptional Leader, According to Science

How a Monthly Town Hall About Sex Is Changing the Conversation Around Modern Love

The Ground Rules for Effective Communication in Romantic Relationships