New research has found that some “dark” personality traits are associated with religious and paranormal belief. The study, published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, sheds light on how different types of personalities are related to different types of supernatural beliefs.
“I have always been interested in the supernatural, and while I was a student, I realized it was something I could research. I wanted to find out why people believed in different things and if people who believed in other things had different personalities or thought in different ways,” said study author Malcolm Schofield, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Derby and the editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.
In the study, 199 adults completed online assessments of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, sadism, belief in supernatural phenomenon, and belief in science.
The researchers found that participants with higher levels of religious beliefs tended to have lower levels of psychopathy but higher levels of sadism. “Religious belief was the type of belief that was most clearly predicted by the Dark Tetrad personality traits, with 7% of the variance explained,” they wrote in their study.
In other words, those who agreed with statements such as “Religion gives meaning to my life” were slightly less likely to agree with statements like “I feel justified in doing anything I can get away with to succeed” but slightly more likely to agree with statements like “I enjoy humiliating others.”
In addition, those who believed in psychokinesis tended to have lower levels of Machiavellianism, while those who believed in paranormal perceptions (such as precognition and haunting) tended to have higher levels of psychopathy.
The findings indicate that “there is a difference in people’s personality depending on whether they hold religious or paranormal beliefs,” Schofield told PsyPost. “While particular beliefs might be associated with dark personality traits, the reasons for this can be complex; for example, religious believers being linked to sadism could be a result of a belief in a just world, where people believe others get what they deserve.”
Belief in science, on the other hand, was not positively or negatively correlated with any of the Dark Tetrad traits. “You could be a dispassionate or a philanthropic ‘scientist,’ either are just as likely,” the researchers said.
Of course, not everyone with strong religious beliefs is a sadist. The findings represent small differences between groups, and the correlational nature of the data prevents the researchers from drawing any firm conclusions about cause and effect.
“While the study indicates that some dark personality traits are linked with certain types of belief, it does not mean that believing in a particular thing is bad,” Schofield said. “However, it might indicate that people use beliefs to justify why they have a particular personality trait.”
The study included participants who identified as atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, none, and spiritual, But “cross-cultural aspects of different beliefs need to be addressed more, and a study examining these more closely would be helpful,” Schofield added.
The study, “Tales From the Dark Side: The Dark Tetrad of Personality, Supernatural, and Scientific Belief“, was authored by Malcolm B. Schofield, Ben L. H. Roberts, Caroline A. Harvey, Ian S. Baker, and Gemma Crouch.