Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dogmatism and openness to experience in the non-religious

From Psychology Today

Dogmatism has usually been related to low levels of openness to experience, the latter being an indicator of one's interest in new and non-traditional ideas. Dogmatism has mostly been studied in relation to religious beliefs but some recent research has looked at dogmatism among non-religious people. One surprising finding was that among self-identified atheists, higher levels of openness to experience were actually associated with greater dogmatism, contrary to the usual pattern. This suggests that the personality dimension openness to experience might not be a marker of open-mindedness as such but more of a preference for unconventional and complex ideas. Perhaps there needs to be a distinction made between humble versus arrogant forms of openness to experience.

Dogmatism refers to rigid certainty about the correctness of one’s views, along with refusal to consider alternatives and a conviction that any intelligent person who has thought things through would agree with one’s own opinions. The opposite of this is the willingness to consider that one’s own views are not the only reasonable way of looking at things and that it is possible that one could be proven wrong. This does not mean that a non-dogmatic person must be wishy-washy, only that they are willing to consider that other people might have good reasons for believing what they do and that it is alright for intelligent people to disagree.

Dogmatism and openness to experience: polar opposites?
People can be dogmatic about any subject, e.g. political and lifestyle views, but dogmatism has mostly been studied among religious believers. Religious beliefs in general tend to be held more dogmatically than other kinds of beliefs, and people with fundamentalist beliefs are generally the most dogmatic of all, virtually by definition. Not surprisingly, religious fundamentalism tends to be associated with low openness to experience (Saroglou, 2010). Openness to experience is a broad and somewhat heterogeneous dimension of personality that refers to the breadth and complexity of a person’s mental life (McCrae & Sutin, 2009). People low in openness to experience tend to prefer rather black-and-white views of the world that are not too complex or intellectually demanding. In contrast, people high in openness prefer more nuanced ways of looking at things, and feel comfortable with complex ideas. Openness to experience encompasses a diverse number of narrower traits, and one of these traits, openness to values, refers to readiness to “re-examine social, political and religious values” and has even been considered to represent “the opposite of dogmatism” (Costa & McCrae, 1992, cited in) (Smith, Johnson, & Hathaway, 2009).

Some atheists can’t stand disagreement
While it seems generally true that people high in openness to experience, particularly in the values facet, are less likely to be dogmatic, there may be some notable exceptions. Re-examining traditional values, for example, does not necessarily guarantee that one will become especially tolerant of differences in opinion. Some people might reject traditional values and then become dogmatic adherents of non-traditional ones. One example that I believe fits this description is an online movement called “Atheism Plus”. This movement, which emerged just over a year ago in the atheist blogging community, bills itself as a “positive” approach that aims to combine atheism/scepticism with a variety of left-liberal political causes associated with the term “social justice.” Response to this movement in the atheist/sceptical community has been less than totally positive. Atheism Plus has been criticised by other atheists as a divisive movement, and a commonly expressed concern is that members of this group have demonstrated intellectual arrogance and intolerance of dissent, even on minor matters.[1] They would seem to be high in openness to values yet appear very dogmatic in their views. A recent research study may sheds some light on when and why high openness to experience and dogmatism sometimes go together.

Dogmatism levels among atheists, nones and Christians.
Dogmatism levels among atheists, nones and Christians. Error bars represent standard deviations.

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