Religious Orientation and Personality Styles in Psychology Students1

By Silva, A S F; Laher, S | Ife Psychologia, September 2011 | Go to article overview
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Religious Orientation and Personality Styles in Psychology Students1

Silva, A S F, Laher, S, Ife Psychologia


The relationship between religion and personality has often been debated in psychology with some theorists advocating the inclusion of religion in models of personality and others advocating that religion is a separate entity from personality. Other research also debates whether religion impacts positively or negatively on personality. Thus the relationship between perceptions of religious orientation and personality styles utilising the Allport-Ross Religious Orientation Scale (1967) and the Millon Index of Personality Styles (1994) was investigated in a sample of 158 psychology students at the University of the Witwatersrand. Results indicated significant differences in the personality styles of intrinsically and extrinsically religiously oriented students. Significant differences were also found between religiously affiliated individuals and individuals with no religious affiliation in terms of personality and religious orientation. The implications of these results for the field of personality psychology are discussed with particular emphasis on the role of religion within personality psychology.

Keywords: Millon, MIPS, personality, religion, religious orientation


Piedmont (1999) argues that religion and spirituality are "universal threads in the fabric of human experience" (p. 988). According to Emmons (1999) personality theory and theology should be natural allies and the relative neglect of religiousness in current personality literature is a serious exclusion that hinders a comprehensive understanding of the person as a whole. In light of these arguments we explored the relationship between religion and personality using the Allport-Ross Religious Orientation Scale (1967) and the Millon Index of Personality Styles (1994).

Allport's (1959) operationalisation of religious orientation, namely intrinsic (those who live' religion, the influence of religion is evident in every aspect of their life) and extrinsic religious orientation (those who use religion for their own ends with values that are instrumental and utilitarian) was used since it is amongst the most widely used and accepted operationalisations of religiousness within the empirical psychology of religion (Laher, 2007b; Plante, Saucido 8c Rice, 2001). Personality was operationalised using the Millón Index of Personality Styles (MIPS) for a number of reasons. The MIPS is located within Millon's biopsychosocial theory of personality which draws on concepts from Freud, Jung and Leary together with some theoretical contributions from the Five Factor model and expresses them together within an evolutionary framework (see Laher, 2007a). Given the wholistic approach adopted towards personality by the theoretical basis underlying the MIPS, we thought it would be of value to use the instrument. Furthermore, while some research has been conducted internationally on the relationship between religious orientation and personality, we were unable to locate any research that used the MIPS to do this. Also more generally, research in this area is lacking in the South African context.

From the literature reviewed an intrinsic religious orientation (IRO) has been associated with individuals who tend to be trusting, optimistic, and empathie and who tend to conform to social customs and moral standards (Dix, 1986; Hansen, Vandenberg 8c Patterson, 1995; Matthews & Treadway, 1994; Palmer 8c Sebby, 2003; Watson, Hood Jr, Morris 8c Hall, 1984). Intrinsically religiously oriented individuals thus tend to exhibit more traits associated with Agreeableness and Conscientiousness (Kosek, 1999; MacDonald, 2000; Saroglou, 2002) and are more likely to be Feeling types (Dunn, 1999). IRO is inversely related to Openness to Experience (Maltby, 1998; McCrae, 1999). Literature is divided on Extraversion with some studies suggesting that intrinsically oriented individuals are more likely to exhibit extraverted behaviour and others suggest an inverse relationship (Bergin, Masters 8c Richards, 1987; Francis 8c Pearson, 1983; MacDonald, 2000; Robinson Jr, 1990; Saroglou, 2002).

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