How Is the Protestant Work Ethic Related to the Need for Cognition? A Factor Analytic Answer

Article excerpt

To examine the relationship between the Protestant work ethic (PWE) and the need for cognition (NFC), 210 Americans completed the Mirels and Garrett (1971) PWE scale and the Cacioppo, Petty, and Kao (1984) NFC scale. Although there was no relationship between the composite PWE scale and NFC, there were relationships between two of three PWE factors and NFC. Specifically, correlational analyses revealed that the PWE factor of hard work as a means to success was negatively related to NFC, whereas the PWE factor of antileisure was positively related to NFC. Results are discussed with respect to the multidimensional structure of various PWE measures. Issues concerning the multifaceted nature of the PWE and future research directions are also considered.

Max Weber's (1958) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism provided moral and religious justification for the accumulation of wealth and the rise of capitalism. Although Weber's original thesis emphasized elements of Protestantism, the concept of the Protestant work ethic (PWE) is now used largely without religious implications to describe people who place work at, or near, the center of their lives (Farnham, 1990b). The PWE is "an orientation towards work which emphasizes dedication to hard work, deferment of immediate rewards, conservation of resources... and the avoidance of idleness and waste in any form" (Beit-Hallahmi, 1979, p. 263). The present exploratory study examined how the extent to which people endorse various facets of the PWE was associated with their "...tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors" (Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, & Jarvis, 1996, p. 197), known as the need for cognition (NFC).

A plethora of research has investigated correlates of the PWE and correlates of the NFC. For instance, in a study of college students, Poulton and Ng (1988) found that high PWEs spend more time studying than do low PWEs. Likewise, in a study of train commuters, Greenberg (1978) found that endorsement of the PWE was positively associated with the relative frequency of working while commuting, the perception of commuting as an extension of work time rather than leisure time, and a preference for working relative to commuting. Thus, the PWE seems to be positively associated with activities requiring effortful cognitive endeavors. With respect to the need for cognition, Fletcher, Danilovics, Fernandez, Peterson, and Reeder (1986) found that NFC was positively associated with having an internal locus of control. Likewise, several studies (e.g., Furnham, 1987a; Mirels & Garrett, 1971) have found that those with a high PWE tend to have an internal locus of control. Taken together, these studies suggest a positive relationship between PWE and NFC.

Other research, however, suggests a negative relationship between PWE and NFC. For instance, Furnham (1983) found that people with a high PWE were particularly resistant to social change, whereas Berzonsky and Sullivan (1992) found that NFC was positively associated with openness to experience, which might include social change. Further, research has established a negative link between NFC and authoritarianism (e.g., Sorrentino, Bobocel, Gitta, Olson, & Hewitt, 1988), a construct that tends to be positively associated with PWE endorsement (MacDonald, 1972). In two studies relating PWE endorsement to human values, Feather (1984) and Furnham (1987b) both found that the PWE was negatively correlated with Rokeach's values of being broadminded, imaginative, and intellectual - values that seem to be indicative of an individual with a high NFC. Indeed, in conducting initial research on their scale, Mirels and Garrett (1971) found that endorsement of the PWE was positively associated with occupational preferences that "...require little (or actually devalue) innovativeness or creativity in the achievement of prescribed goals" (p. 43).


The difficulty in hypothesizing the relationship between PWE and NFC may lie in the fact that the PWE is a multifaceted construct, much as Weber (1958) himself conceptualized it (Furnham, 1990a; Jones, 1997). …


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