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Social personality traits as salient predictors of religious doubt phenomena among undergraduates.

Twenty-six years ago, Bergin, Masters, and Richards (1987) published results from a correlational study of Allport's two religious orientations with indices of pathology and social personality traits. Curiously, Batson's quest religion, a third religious orientation, was not included. The omission appears to accompany the unremitting uneasiness and confusion with religious doubt in the American Christian church. In contrast, the present study identified a set of mature and adaptive social personality traits related to doubt phenomena. Specifically, multiple regression analyses of questionnaire data from 642 religious undergraduates revealed four personality dispositions predicted quest religious orientation and theological exploration. Implications with and applications of the findings are discussed.

Twenty-six years ago, Bergin, Masters, and Richards (1987) published a study investigating the relationships between religious motivation, pathology, and personality traits. Results indicated intrinsic religious orientation, not extrinsic, associated with adaptive ways of being religious relative to personal functioning. Moreover, the authors reported nine social personality traits positively related to intrinsic religiosity.

Curiously, Batson's (1976) quest religious orientation (QRO) was not included in the study by Bergin et al. (1987). This religious motive embodies three important traits of mature and authentic religiousness. The attributes comprise (a) responsiveness--a willingness to address existential struggles and not divorce self from complex and uncomfortable experiences; (b) doubt--courage to positively embrace uncertainty when it emerges in life and resist dogmatic, trite answers; and (c) tentativeness--an ongoing pursuit of new religious information leading to potential modification of beliefs (Batson, Schoenrade, & Ventis, 1993; Beck, Baker, Robbins, & Dow, 2001),

When the study by Bergin et al. (1987) published, QRO had been established in the research literature for almost a decade. Why the omission? Two reasons potentially explain the decision. First, religion as quest draws attention to doubt, a phenomenon often regarded negatively (Beck, 1990). Authors have described doubting experiences as emotionally traumatic, shameful, faithless (Strobel, 2000), confusing, controversial (Puffer et al., 2008), unsafe (Moreland & Issler, 2008), and scary (Patton, 2010). Moreover, Masters and Bergin (1992) remarked, "Empirical evidence shows that doubt may be related to worse functioning" (p. 228). They also tagged doubt as a temporary stage leading people toward intrinsic religiousness, a suggestion limiting the role of doubt in religious faith.

Second, criticism and controversy persistently follow quest religion. Masters and Bergin (1992) highlighted research (Donahue, 1985; Watson, Morris, & Hood, 1989) that argued the quest motive does not measure religiosity. This opinion does not lack company. Other researchers have branded QRO as a construct of religious disinterest (Watson, Morris, Hood, Jr., Miller, & Waddell, 1999), maladaptive religious motivation (Khan, Watson, & Habib, 2005), and symbolic disbelief (Neyrinck, Lens, Vansteenkiste, & Soenens, 2010).

The exclusion of the quest motive from the study by Bergin et al. (1987) and the conclusions by Masters and Bergin (1992) generate unanswered questions. Why the unremitting uneasiness and confusion with doubt among religious people in the United States? If Bergin et al. had included QRO, what outcomes would have emerged relative to the other religious orientations? Since social personality traits were successfully utilized in their study, can the dispositions provide additional insight into quest religiosity? In particular, which social personality attributes predict doubt phenomena?

The ensuing discussion aims to answer the above questions. Influences generating unenthusiastic views of religious doubt in the American church are exposed. And a rationale for and outcomes from a multivariate regression study with undergraduates on the relationship between social personality traits and religious doubt phenomena are addressed.

Uneasiness and Confusion

Doubters are misunderstood people (Guinness, 1976; Ortberg, 2008). Questions abound regarding their religious status. Are they ordinary, vibrant believers, or complete apostates? Answers to these inquiries are swayed by perceptions of doubt. Unfortunately, an assiduous bewilderment with religious doubt lingers in the American church. Several factors sustain the uneasiness and confusion; three notable ones include lopsided characterizations, inappropriate transpositions, and suppressive tactics. First, some authors opine an obvious disdain for or wariness with doubt phenomena. Lucado (1989) painted doubt as an obnoxious interloper--as something to be barred from the soul. Buchanan (2000) described it as a cancer-like destroyer with an insatiable appetite and Darmani (2002) viewed it as a demonic insurrectionist creating disquiet in the human heart. Yet, these descriptions are askew, omitting important features and accentuating extreme cases.

In contrast, Osborne (2010) designated doubt as an effect from human finitude marking it an inevitable and unavoidable part of life (Newbigin, 1995). As a pervasive trait in the human condition, doubt is also an integral part of cognitive functioning (Beck, 1990). Regardless of belief system-atheism, agnosticism, scientific naturalism, polytheism, or theism-people grapple with doubt. According to Hecht (2003), all humans have the "same contradictory information to work with" (p. xi). Moreover, research data indicate a majority of Americans confess having doubt. Smith (1998) reported from a General Social Survey that 72% of respondents had a faith with varying amounts of doubt; only 27% reported being doubt-free, and 1% did not know.

Second, religionists sometimes equate doubt with other rational concepts such as unbelief, ambivalence, and skepticism (Beck, 1990; Guinness, 1976; Puffer et al, 2008). In a discussion on Apostle Thomas' infamous rejection of his peers' testimony of Christ's resurrection, Buchanan (2000) wrote, "He doubted, not to excuse his unbelief, but to establish robust belief" (p. 64). Apparently, the terms are regarded as synonyms, yet the transposition is perplexing. Is the disciple doubting or not believing? Moreover, if Thomas actually doubted in the Gospel story, why is there no apparent hesitation in the text? Kostenberger (2004) remarked the apostle's comment in John 20:25 is forceful in nature and can be translated, "... I will certainly not' believe" (p. 577). Thomas does not seem to be vacillating; he is not saying, "I may or may not believe."

Third, religious individuals also generate suspicion with doubt through suppressive practices, such as squelching dissension. Dark (2009) concluded families and churches rarely grant permission to "critique and complain and reform" spiritual and religious beliefs and practices (p. 34). Kinnaman (2011) substantiated these observations. He reported among Christians aged 18-to-29 years old, 50% could not ask their pressing life questions and 15% were not allowed to talk about their doubts in church.

Empirical Insight

Mental health professionals have empirically studied religious doubt for over three and half decades. Puffer et al. (2008) delineated various instruments used in many of the investigations such as the Quest Scale (QS; Batson, 1976; Batson & Schoenrade, 1991) and the Multidimensional Quest Orientation Scale (MQOS; Beck & Jessup, 2004). They also noted several different life domains researched with doubting phenomena. Considerable information has been amassed about doubt and doubters. Yet, recent updates in the research literature indicate a similar equivocal pattern in the findings as reported by Puffer et al.; perplexity remains about the relationship that doubt has with other religious concepts and positive mental constructs.

For instance, with religious life variables, QS is positively associated with spiritual instability and disappointment (Sandage, Jankowski, & Link, 2010) and negatively related to Muslim religious reflection--the "seeking truth" component (Dover, Miner, & Dowson, 2007). Yet, the quest motive has a curvilinear relationship with realistic acceptance, a kind of spiritual relationship balancing religious disappointment and hope (Sandage et al., 2010) and a positive relationship with intrinsic religiosity (Khan et al., 2005). Moreover, studies employing the MQOS reported supportive evidence with individual subcomponents of quest religion such as Exploration (EXP) which is negatively associated to both anxiety and avoidance dimensions of attachment to God (Beck, 2006) and positively related to intrinsic religiosity (Beck & Jessup, 2004) and likelihood to forgive (Messay, 2010).

Regarding intrapersonal functioning, quest religiosity positively related to mental health concerns such as worry and stomach pain (Sandage et al., 2010), identity distress (Gebelt, Thompson, & Miele, 2009), and personal distress (Khan et al., 2005). QRO also negatively associated to positive affect, satisfaction with life, and overall college adjustment (Bounds, 2009). But, other research findings note identity moratorium and achievement were positive predictors of QRO, while identity foreclosure and diffusion were negative predictors (Puffer et al., 2008).

Social Phenomena and Religious Doubt

One understudied area of religious doubt and the human experience is interpersonal functioning. Social well-being is an important dimension of positive mental health (Batson et al., 1993; Masters & Bergin, 1992; WHO, 2010). However, ambiguity remains as to whether doubt relates to adaptive or problematic social functioning.

Batson et al. (1993) indicated quest religiosity is not correlated with "motivation to help in order to look good or to avoid looking bad" (p. 360). Other studies have revealed QRO as being positively associated with social justice actions among African-Americans (Eldredge, 2006), racial openness (Sciarra & Gushue, 2003), responsible sexual behavior, and an unselfish love style (Leak, 1993). But, an inverse relationship exists between quest religion and tolerance, trust (Watson et, al., 1999), interdependence (Wiley, 2006), and healthy family situations (Rootes, Jankowski, & Sandage, 2009).

Interestingly, the aforementioned studies address only interpersonal behavior. What about social personality traits? How would dispositions of social functioning, which allow persons to be adaptive in their social environment, relate to doubt phenomena? Halfaer (1972) contended "the religious belief system is an ideal vehicle for studying complex personality processes ... [It] is the individuals most general and condensed definition of himself and his environment" (pp. 4-5). In addition, Bergin et al. (1987) reported nine dispositions related to intrinsic religiosity. What traits are connected to doubt constructs?

Therefore, the intent of the present study was to expand current knowledge of the relationship between social phenomena and religious doubt. Specifically, the aim was to ascertain what combination of social personality traits would predict doubt for religious undergraduates. Furthermore, the personality variables are anticipated to be positive predictors of quest religion variables. There is some evidence in the research literature for positive relationships between a few key social constructs and quest religiosity (Eldredge, 2006; Leak, 1993; Sciarra & Gushue, 2003). And, Batson et al. (1993) maintained, "It is at the level of social consequences that the quest dimension looks most beneficial" (p. 376).


Participants and Procedure

College students attending a Christian university in the Midwest were recruited for this study and rewarded with extra credit for their voluntary participation. The 642 undergraduates (65% female; 35% male) who volunteered averaged 19 years of age. The majority was European American (93%). Two percent of the participants self-identified as African American, two percent as Asian American, two percent as Hispanic Americans, and one percent as other or undesignated.

Concerning religious orientation and affiliation, 56% of the sample marked religion on a personal level as important and 44% indicated being Protestant with 12% marking an undesignated affiliation. Unfortunately, these two demographic questions were not ascertained in the first year of the project relative to subsequent years. Hence, forty-four percent of the undergraduates are undesignated in both religious orientation and affiliation. However, as in the study of Bergin et al. (1987), participants sign a religious lifestyle agreement in conjunction with their enrollment to the university. The accord indicates they agree to adhere to biblical moral, ethical, and conduct principles and practices.

Data were collected over a three-year period. Respondents were given a request for informed consent compliant with the university's institutional review board, a demographic information form, and three measures assessing their religious doubt habits and social personality traits. Instructions were given for the paper and pencil administrations. After participants filled out the forms and completed the assessments, they were returned to the respective professor who forwarded them to the author.


Religious Doubt. Two different instruments, the QS and the MQOS, were utilized to assess religious doubt phenomena. The former, QS, is a 12-item measure that has a nine-point Likert response format. It provides a one-dimensional assessment of participants' quest motive. This inquisitive religious drive comprises the three attributes--responsiveness, doubt, and tentativeness--which were mentioned earlier (Batson et al, 1993; Beck et al., 2001).

The MQOS has 62-items and employs a seven-point Likert response format. It offers a multidimensional appraisal of respondents' quest motive using nine subcomponents. In this investigation, one component, Exploration (EXP), was employed. EXP contains six items evaluating the level of energy marshaled to widen and deepen peoples religious knowledge base (Beck & Jessup, 2004). According to Batson et al. (1993), an important feature of QRO is an emphasis on "incompleteness [which involves] a continual search for more light on religious questions" (p. 166). Moreover, the reliability coefficient for the items within EXP was .85 indicating good internal consistency (Beck & Jessup, 2004).

Why EXP? This variable represents an important part in the doubting experience. According to Allport (1967), doubt emerges when old information collides with new knowledge. Exploration generates the latter. Put another way, the openness, curiosity, and effort in exploration creates new experiences and unfamiliar religious knowledge, which potentially challenge religionists' established belief structure (Beck, 2006).

Social Personality Traits. Social dispositions were measured by the California Psychological Inventory (CPI; Gough, 1991), which contains 462-items using a true-false format. Items in the inventory are assembled into twenty folk concept scales. These refer to constructs linked to the "processes of interpersonal life ... found everywhere that humans congregate into groups and establish societal functions" (Gough, 1991, pp. 1-2).

Nine scales were utilized in this study. These include dominance (DO) which describes assertive leadership; persons with this trait are forceful, self-assured, socially poised, confident, verbally adept, and focused on power. Capacity for status (CS) notes ascendant and organizational preeminence; individuals with this disposition tend to be ambitious and assertive. Sociability (SY) specifies gregariousness; people with this feature are active and talkative with others. Social presence (SP) indicates energetic and social confidence; persons who have this trait are socially participative and witty. Independence (IN) balances autonomy with effective engagement; individuals with this tendency are determined yet have smooth social interactions. Empathy (EM) points to adept social intelligence; people with this feature are curious, observant, perceptive, progressive, and versatile. Good impression (GI) highlights conscientious affiliation; persons with this disposition tend to be cooperative, polite, tactful, patient, conventional, and responsive to others. Tolerance (TO) underlines unprejudiced urbaneness; individuals with this feature can be diplomatic and non-judgmental. Last, femininity/masculinity (F/M) emphasizes an androgynous social sensitivity; people who possess this trait are often reflective, emotional, tactful, sympathetic, complicated, and idealistic (Gough, 1991; McAllister, 1988).

Why the CPI? First, comparisons with findings from Bergin et al. (1987) necessitated the inclusion of the CPI. Second, it is "an existing measure widely used in personality research for more than a half century" (Soto & John, 2009, p. 25). For instance, a general factor of personality was extracted from the CPI (Rushton & Irwing, 2009) and a "CPI-Big Five" measure was developed for longitudinal investigations (Soto & John, 2009). Third, because there are semantic problems attached to religious doubt (i.e., equating it to unbelief), discussions about predictive criteria need plain and simple terms. The CPI's folk concept scales represent "everyday variables that ordinary people use in their daily lives to understand ... their own behavior" (Gough, 1987, p. 1). Hence, the variables are easily understood by a variety of people, laity and mental health professionals (McCrae, Costa, & Piedmont, 1993).

Moreover, why the specified nine traits of the CPI? First, use of twenty variables would be cumbersome. Second, McAllister (1988) summarized dominance, capacity for status, sociability, social presence, independence, and empathy as exemplars of "interpersonal effectiveness and social adequacy" (p. 7). Third, tolerance as a personality trait bears a resemblance to the social behavioral construct by the same name in other studies (Batson et. al, 1993; Watson et, al., 1999). Fourth, good impression (GI) and femininity/masculinity (F/M) are dispositions which indicate a high level of responsiveness to others; in GI, the emphasis is on rapport and contact with others and in F/M there is a sensitivity to avoid being offensive and critical. Last, the other eleven CPI scales have embedded and unappealing intrapersonal features. For instance, well-being (WB) stresses self-satisfaction and self-comfortableness, while communality (CM) underscores a view of self being ordinary and non-unique.

Each of the aforementioned instruments has acceptable psychometric properties. Reliability data for the variables used in this study are displayed in Table 1. Other reliability and validity data can be acquired from the previously mentioned resources.

Intercorrelations, Means, Standard Deviations, and Reliabilities of
the Variables for Religious Doubt and Social Personality Traits



EXP .27 -

DO -.06 .22 -

CS .03 .20 .48 -

SY .01 .14 .61 .56 -

SP .01 .09 .50 .50 .72 -

IN -.10 .13 .64 .48 .52 .53 -

EM .07 .21 .44 .60 .56 .51 .36 -

GI -.17 .12 .14 .19 -.01 -.13 .17 .11 -

TO -.06 .08 .18 .34 .15 .10 .20 .32 .42 -

F/M .12 .01 -.25 -.06 -.18 -.27 -.32 -.12 -.05 .05 -

Mean 60.0 26.1 51.6 47.1 50.2 45.4 47.3 50.4 49.9 48.7 48.7

SD 14.3 7.2 11.6 8.9 9.4 12.0 8.8 8.7 8.4 7.7 11.2

Alpha .82 .86 .79 .58 .75 .69 .70 .58 .77 .68 .63

Note: n = 633; QS = Quest Scale; EXP = Exploration; DO = Dominance;
CS = Capacity for Status; SY = Sociability; SP = Social Presence;
IN = Independence; EM = Empathy; GI = Good Impression; TO = Tolerance;
and F/M = Femininity/Masculinity; underlined & bold "r" = p < .05;
just bold "r" = p [less than or equal to].01; and unmarked "r" =
non-significant 'r'; alpha for QRO is from Batson & Schoenrade (1991);
alpha for EXP was an obtained Cronbach; alphas for DO-F/M are from
Gough (1991).


Descriptive statistics for the social personality and religious doubt variables are presented in Table 1. As can be observed, the means for CPI traits range from 45 to 52T. This places the means in the middle between two of the four interpretative categories, low (30-45T) and high (55-70T). Bookending these middle interpretative groups are the two extreme ranges, very low (< 30T) and very high (> 70T) (McAllister, 1988).

The mean for QS in this study fits within the range of reported averages, 59.4 to 60.5, by Batson and Schoenrade (1991) and Batson et al. (1993). As for EXP, the expected and observed range of scores was 6-42 (Beck & Jessup, 2004). Reliability data obtained on EXP is noted in Table 1. The alpha coefficient corroborates Beck and Jessup's (2004) reliability report for the sub-factor. The correlation between EXP and QS indicates a small convergence.

Pearson product-moment correlations between variables of religious doubt and the CPI are also displayed in Table 1. In general, QS was negatively related or unrelated to the social personality traits with one exception; femininity/masculinity was the one positive correlate. EXP, on the other hand, had several significant correlations--all were positively associated.

Three implications from the correlational findings warrant attention. First, QS associated with three (independence [-IN], good impression [-GI], femininity/masculinity [+F/M]) of the nine social personality traits. Similarly, intrinsic religious orientation (IRO) in the project by Bergin et al. (1987) had three associations (sociability [+SY], good impression [+GI], tolerance [+TO]) with the nine dispositions used in this study. The contrast is the number of positive correlations. The similarity is GI, but the associations are in opposite directions. Hence, it appears IRO has a slight edge in total positive social traits. Moreover, in Bergin et al. the IRO had six other positive associations with CPI traits not used in this study, yet those were dispositions which had an intrapersonal bent (e.g., well-being, communality). Second, QS had one of its two negative correlates with CPI variables (-GI) in common with extrinsic religious orientation (ERO) in the project with Bergin et al. Yet, ERO had a total of five negative correlations (capacity for status [-CS], sociability [-SY], social presence [-SP], good impression [-GI], tolerance [-TO]) with CPI variables used in this study highlighting dissimilarity with QS. Third, EXP relative to QS had five more positive correlations. Moreover, in reference to the nine CPI variables in this study, EXP had twice the number of positive associations relative to IRO in the project by Bergin et al. Only two traits, SY and GI, were in common between EXP and IRO.

An evaluation of: the assumptions for multivariate regression procedures was conducted. Missing data and outliers among the eleven variables were identified and eliminated using list-wise deletion for the former and the author's reported score range for the latter. No multicollinearity occurred among the measured variables. There were no skewed distributions; hence, there was sufficient normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996).

Table 2 displays the results of the standard multiple regression analyses performed to determine the influence of the nine social personality traits on religious doubt phenomena. In general, the CPI variables contributed significantly to prediction of these constructs. Four predictors emerged; the three positive ones were expected, but the negative criterion was not. More specifically, empathy was the recurring independent variable; it positively predicted QS and EXP. Both femininity/masculinity and dominance were also positive predictors, the former for QS and the latter for EXP. Good impression was the lone negative predictor for QS. Effect size for each regression procedure was small (Cohen, 1988).

Standard Multiple Regression Analyses for the Influence of Social
Personality Traits on Religious Doubt

Construct Variable B SE Beta p-value F p-value ES

Religious 3.58 .00 .05
Doubt - QS
(n = 512)

 DO -.02 .08 -.02 .80

 CS .14 .11 .08 .20

 SY -.03 .11 -.02 .81

 SP -.04 .09 -.03 .64

 IN -.13 .11 -.08 .24

 EM .22 .10 .13 .03

 GI -.27 .09 -.16 .00

 TO -.06 .09 -.04 .50

 F/M .13 .06 .10 .04

Religious 5.45 .00 .08
Doubt - EXP
(n = 510)

 DO .13 .04 .21 .00

 CS .08 .05 .10 .12

 SY -.03 .05 -.05 .52

 SP -.05 .04 -.08 .27

 IN -.04 .06 -.05 .48

 EM .14 .05 .17 .00

 GI .06 .04 .08 .14

 TO -.05 .05 -.05 .28

 F/M .05 .03 .07 .15

Note: QS = Quest Scale; EXP = Exploration; DO = Dominance;
CS = Capacity for Status; SY = Sociability; SP = Social Presence;
IN = Independence; EM = Empathy; GI = Good Impression;
TO - Tolerance; FM = Femininity / Masculinity; and according
to Cohen (1988), effect size (ES = [f.sup.2]) ranges for
multiple regression analyses are small = .02, medium = .15,
and large = .35.


Kinnaman (2011) wrote, "Doubt is a far more nuanced and slippery experience that involves ... notions about uncertainty ... personality ... and even mental health" (p. 187). In the present study, two of Kinnaman's factors were addressed. This project exposed common influences perpetuating uneasiness and confusion with religious doubt. It also identified social personality structures which predict religion as quest and theological exploration expanding the knowledge base of the relationship between interpersonal functioning and doubt phenomena.

Quest Scale and CPI Traits

Three of the nine independent variables became predictors of QS. The authors hypothesis was partially supported with two CPI traits being positive criterion. Yet, the combination of empathy (+EM), femininity/masculinity (+F/M), and good impression (-GI) generate new insights into the personality structure of questers. These results indicate adept social intelligence, androgynous social sensitivity, and disregard for making a good impression as predictive of an "open-ended, questioning approach to religion" among religious undergraduates (Batson et al., 1993, p. 166).

Implications. Several implications with the three social phenomena warrant attention. First, empathy as a personality trait has been tagged as an expression of social suaveness (McAllister, 1988). Grief and Hogan (1973) reported empathetic persons are known "by a patient and fore-bearing nature, by affiliative, but socially ascendant tendencies, and by liberal and humanistic political and religious attitudes" (p. 284). As a social behavior, Wollner (2012) designated empathy as an important skill in "successful and efficient communication" (p. 215). People take the role of "the other" (Mead, 1934); they notice, understand, and experience thoughts and feelings of peers. Gallese (2001) explained the same "neural structures active during [ordinary] sensations and emotion [in self] are active also when the same sensations and emotion are detected in others" (p. 46). Davis (1983) distinguished cognitive empathy, the detecting and comprehending of others' perspectives, from affective empathy, the automatic emotional reactions to others' expressed emotions. And Decety and Jackson (2004) added taking the role of others is done "without losing sight of whose feelings belong to whom" (p. 71). Moreover, this result partly replicates research findings by Barrio, Alluja, and Garcia (2004) who noted empathy as an adaptive interpersonal function and by Lyons and Zingle (1990) along with Muse (1992) who reported empathy positively related to QRO.

Second, femininity/masculinity (F/M) as a personality disposition highlights an androgynous social sensitivity (McAllister, 1988). Bem (1974) reported F/M positively related to the Androgyny scale on the Bem Sex Role Inventory. Gough (1991) shared that top adjectives correlating to F/M included masculine for female participants and feminine for males. Yamawaki (2010) specified androgynous individuals are comfortable engaging in behaviors appropriate for both genders; they can be assertive, emotionally expressive, competitive, yielding, affectionate, and independent. Moreover, this study's finding partly corroborates the research outcomes of Shin, Yang, and Edwards (2010) that indicated higher levels of androgyny for American relative to Korean college students and of Thompson and Remmes (2002) that reported gender identity role, masculinity, positively correlated to QRO among elderly males.

Third, good impression as a personality trait highlights conscientious affiliation. Persons with this disposition tend to be cooperative, polite, tactful, patient, and responsive to others (McAllister, 1988). As a social behavior, Sadler, Hunger, & Miller (2010) referred to impression management as "a need to present well" (p. 623). Lee, Quigley, Nesler, Corbett, and Tedeschi (1999) differentiated good impression actions into defensive tactics that are reparative in nature (i.e., apologies) and assertive tactics that seek to establish individuals among peers (i.e., intimidation). Moreover, Grant and Mayer (2009) discovered people's impression management motives tend to be affiliative kinds of citizenship actions such as assisting others, being courteous, and taking the initiative, instead of the challenging citizenship behaviors which include questioning, voicing problems, and making improvement to the status quo.

Applications. From these results, there are a few real world applications. First, the American church needs to view doubters in a more holistic sense. Although anxiety, depression, and religious disinterest associate with quest religiosity (Genia, 1996; Kojetin, Mcintosh, Bridges, & Spilka, 1987; Watson et al., 1999), social savvy predicted QRO. Put simply, questers can possess mature social personality features--a social sophistication (Grief & Hogan, 1973). Empathy (+EM) empowers them to communicate efficiently, to discern the thoughts of others, and to feel affective reactions of others (Davis, 1983; Wollner, 2012). These socially adaptive tendencies help them understand people. Also, an androgynous social sensitivity (+F/M) enables questers to be tactful, emotional, and sympathetic (McAllister, 1988; Yamawaki, 2010). These traits assist them in passionately loving others as Christ commands (Matthew 22:39) even in the midst of an existential crisis and doctrinal questioning.

Second, questers' disregard for making a good impression (-GI) may be perceived as an annoying feature. In particular, they might not have a high need to present well, nor engage in either defensive or assertive tactics, nor pursue affiliative kinds of citizenship behavior (Grant & Mayer, 2009; Lee et al., 1999; Sadler et al., 2010). Hence, some in religious communities could perceive questers as immature. Yet, there is an important alternative view. Individuals embracing religion as quest are committed to being real, genuine, and congruent instead of looking good to others (Batson et al., 1993). The desperate father in Mark 9:14-29 illustrates a quester with a disregard for impression management. He was immersed in an existential struggle, the chronic demonization of his son (v. 17, 21). Although exasperated and disappointed from the past failed healings of his son, the dedicated adult caregiver still pursued Christ for help, not inhibited by the crowd's perception of him. He was the first to speak up when Jesus inquired as to why the crowd was arguing with the disciples (v. 17), quickly answered Christ as to how long his son had been demonized (v. 21), openly doubted Jesus' power to deal with the demon (v. 22), and boldly self-disclosed his unbelief for all to hear (v. 24).

Third, collectively, empathy (+EM), femininity/masculinity (+F/M), and good impression (-GI), aptly equip questers with social talents for encounters with individuals who may negatively react to their approach to religion. EM and F/M help undergraduates be interpersonally sensitive creating social awareness. The traits aid in the detecting or reading of cues (e.g., anger, disgust, disappointment, aloofness, disapproval, judgment) exhibited by critics in one-on-one or group situations (Goleman, 2006). GI aids college students in the application of this social awareness via self-presentation, the ability to "present oneself in ways that make a desired impression" (Goleman, 2006, p. 93). Instead of faking good, questers seek to be real and genuine in conversations with detractors. They resist the temptation to publically agree with persons while inwardly disagreeing (Batson et al., 1993).

Exploration Scale and CPI Traits

Again, the author's hypothesis was partially supported. Two of nine independent variables became positive predictors of EXP. Both, empathy and dominance, present important information about the personality structure of explorers--people engaging in a theological exploration. These results reveal adept social intelligence and assertive leadership as predictive of "openness, curiosity, and effort" (Beck, 2006, p. 126), qualities of individuals engaged in "a continual search for more light on religious questions" (Batson et al., 1993, p. 166).

Implications. There are a few implications about dominance (DO) meriting discussion. First, as a personality trait, McAllister (1988) indicated dominant people tend to be forceful, self-assured, socially poised, confident, verbally adept, and focused on power. In group settings, they tend "to speak more, gain more control over group processes, and hold disproportionate sway" (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009, p. 491). Yet, the social influence of individuals high in trait dominance results from competence cues. They frequently express opinions and suggestions, use direct eye contact and assertive voice tones, and display a relaxed body posture. Moreover, this study's recognition of DO as an adaptive interpersonal function corroborates in part the findings of Hogan, Curphy, and Hogan (1994).

Second, as a social behavior, aggressive forms of dominance exist where intimidation, coercion, and fear are employed for social status purposes (Halevy, Chou, Cohen, & Livingston, 2012). For instance, social dominance orientation (SDO) is a construct advocating group-based inequalities; individuals high in SDO tend to prefer "unequal and dominant/subordinate relations among salient social groups" (Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006, p. 282). But, research suggests QRO is not significantly related to SDO (Rowatt, Franklin, & Cotton, 2005).

Applications. Practically speaking, a few important applications of these findings merit attention. First, the emergence of dominance as a predictor of EXP may indicate a "doubt-bias" within the religious culture of the participants in this study. Social skills such as being forceful, self-assured, socially poised, confident, and verbally adept appear to be necessary "gear" for people who seek to expand their religious knowledge base (Beck & Jessup, 2004; McAllister, 1988). If an intervention or antidote to an "anti-doubt" socialization is needed, proactive educational responses can assist. Possibilities include an interdisciplinary definition of religious doubt and a review of biblical narratives revealing how Christ and the early church reacted to doubters. For the former response, both psychologists and theologians have contributed provocative ideas about doubt. A definition synthesized from their wisdom has potential to provide a nuanced conceptualization of the phenomenon: something comprehensive and hearty to dispel urban legends (see Appendix A). As for the latter response, many negative reactions to religious doubt within the American church do not resonate with New Testament precedents. For instance, Christ and His church are depicted as being merciful (Jude 22), tolerant (Matthew 28:16-17), and patient (Matthew 11:1-6; 11-15) along with offering empathy and gentle correction (Mark 9:14-29) (see Appendix B). These behaviors model a balanced mindset about doubt and afford an alternative set of practices, which the twenty-first century church might emulate when interacting with doubters.

Second, dominance may also be a misunderstood personality trait among religious people. Anderson and Kilduff (2009) shared individuals high in trait dominance might appear to lead others by controlling and aggressive means. Yet, trait dominant people "'cannot take charge of groups simply through force [of their personality]; rather they ... possess superior task and social competence" (p. 491). The Apostle Thomas in John 14:1-7 illustrates an explorer with trait dominance. Although considered candid, blunt, and crass at times (Kostenberger, 2004), this disciple is also known as a person who sought "after fuller truth ... [one who did] not close his mind to further knowledge" (Lockyer, 1972, p. 179). When Christ declared, "You know the way to the place where I am going" (v. 4; NIV), Thomas was puzzled and did not pretend to understand (Morris, 1995). Hence, the apostle stated, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (v. 5; NIV). His competence cues--confidence, assertiveness, and expression of opinion--benefitted the other disciples and himself. The statements triggered another "I am saying" (v. 6) from Christ enabling them and eventually the world to learn more about the Messiah's identity (Kostenberger, 2004).

Third, empathy, as a social personality trait, is an asset to collegiate explorers. Kinnaman (2011) described the current generation, Millennial, as being unafraid to ask questions, but lacking patience and determination needed in the pursuit of helpful answers. Empathetic individuals tend to have persistence. Grief and Hogan (1973) referred to them as being "patient and fore-bearing" (p. 284). Moreover, in their pursuits for knowledge, explorers will encounter numerous collisions of old and new information. Again, empathy benefits these undergraduates by equipping them to detect, discern, and comprehend their own and others' kinds of doubts and beliefs (Davis, 1983). To assist these efforts, two supportive resources are recommended: Guinness's (1976) discussion of seven common religious doubts (i.e., questioning Gods nature and actions) and Ortberg's (2008) delineation of three types of beliefs (i.e., public, private, and core convictions). Sorting doubts and beliefs into distinctive categories would provide explorers with an informed framework and empower them to astutely respond to the variety among and complexity within hesitations and convictions.

Fourth, collectively, empathy (+EM) and dominance (+DO) appropriately furnish explorers with social talents for wise responses to resistance to their exploratory endeavors. EM, as previously discussed, enables people to be interpersonally sensitive. The trait allows explorers to read critics, to notice their "non-verbal emotional signals" and understand their "thoughts, feelings, and intentions" (Goleman, 2006, p. 84). DO permits individuals to facilitate or apply this social awareness by influencing the direction of conversations. Explorers can communicate "in a way that produces a desired social result" (Goleman, p. 95); it is a useful aptitude when facing negative or harsh criticism of their new religious information or tweaked religious beliefs.

Limitations and Future Research

The results of this study should be considered in light of certain limitations. First, the nature of the research questions and the regression statistical procedures mean no cause-effect conclusions about the variables of interest can be made. Second, generalizations from the findings are restricted to populations similar to the features of this sample.

These limitations notwithstanding, the importance of doubt phenomena and interpersonal functioning should remain a viable research topic. Future research projects can include other social personality traits such as extraversion in the Big Five model which contains important interpersonal sub-features such as peoples warmth, positive emotions, activity, and excitement seeking (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Other components of the MQOS, those proximal to the quest religion construct such as tentativeness, change, existential motives, and complexity, need to be examined with social personality dispositions. Last, relative to this study's sample, the experiences of other ethnic and religious groups with QRO (i.e., QS, MQOS) and social dispositions (i.e., CPI) should be investigated.


Bergin et al. (1987) concluded they provided "moderate evidence [for] religious intrinsicness [being] positively associated with personal adjustment" (p. 200). Twenty-six years later, a set of mature and adaptive social personality traits, empathy, femininity/masculinity, good impression, and dominance, were identified as predictors of doubt phenomena--quest religious orientation and theological exploration. These findings provide additional interpersonal insight into the complex nature of religious doubt. And if the American church seeks to possess "an examined faith ... [one that is] unafraid to doubt" (Guinness, 1976, p. 16), it will need to vigorously pursue a more comprehensive conceptualization of religious doubt and passionately emulate the New Testament precedents for interacting with doubters.

Appendix A: An Interdisciplinary Definition of Doubt (A Modest Proposal)

Religious doubt has been a topic of inquiry in a variety of disciplines. Psychologists and theologians have contributed provocative ideas about it, spanning decades for the former and centuries for the latter. Allport (1967) discussed doubt in The Individual and His Religion. Theologians, Zodhiates (1966), Guinness (1976), DeGraaf (2005), and Moo (2009), presented their views on diakrinoo which is one of the Greek words in the New Testament translated into English as doubt and particularly used in the epistle by James. Collectively, their ideas can be synthesized into the following interdisciplinary definition:
 Doubt is a hesitant reaction, a state of uncertainty. Knowledge
 sources, old and new information, have collided. In the clash or
 hesitation, people differentiate; they simultaneously distinguish
 both sides. Hence, doubters are in two minds: a contrast to belief
 and disbelief which are states of single-mindedness. Moreover,
 doubt can evolve into a chronic divided loyalty, a contrast to
 normal doubting.

For additional discussion on the specific contributions of Allport and the aforementioned theologians contact the author.

Appendix B: Biblical Precedents

Several chronicles of Christ or His church interacting with doubters are noted throughout the New Testament. These scriptural response patterns do not resonate with the negative reactions to religious doubt within the American church previously mentioned at the onset of this article. Possibly, religionists are discounting biblical precedents or simply need help in remembering them. The following discussions review four narratives and highlight practices, which the twenty-first century church might emulate.

Mercy. In Jude 22, the half-brother of Christ instructed his readers to "be merciful to those who doubt" (New International Version). The word, 'those,' refers to a group of Christians in the church who had been swayed by false teaching (Osborne, 2011). Although confused and their doctrine ruffled, the believers did not join the ranks of the heretics. They were not void of faith because of doubt. Hence, there was no need for a harsh rebuke. The doubters were to be respected and valued. In a redemptive move, followers of Christ were to pursue doubters--not shun them (Moo, 1996).

Tolerance. In Matthew 28:16-17, prior to Christ's Great Commission the apostle noted, "The eleven disciples went to Galilee ... When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted" (NIV). This select group of disciples encountered Jesus; they prostrated themselves in an act of worship and some doubted (Lenski, 2008). Interestingly, Jesus knew the doubts. Yet, He did not disrupt the commissioning to confront them or shame them for being 'double-minded wimps.' And more importantly, doubt did not disqualify the disciples from ministry.

Patience. In Matthew 11:3, the apostle recorded a question which John the Baptist sent to Christ via his disciples. The former asked, "Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else" (v. 3; NIV)? John, a prominent person in Gods salvific plan, had already identified Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Yet, he grappled with doubt just as Peter had (Matthew 14:31). From Christ, there was no condemnation; doubt was not treated as a major catastrophe or controversy. Instead, the Baptizer received a patient reminder of prophecies being fulfilled (vv. 4-5), encouragement to deter despair (v. 6), and honor for being the greatest prophet (vv. 9-14) (Osborne, 2010).

Empathy & Gentle Correction. Mark 9:14-29 provides the story of a desperate father and his son possessed by an evil spirit from childhood. This parent, in an appeal for help, stated to Jesus, "But, if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us" (v. 22; NIV). Christ listened to him, understood his message, and communicated understanding of the crisis (Egan, 2007). Jesus' empathy was evident as He repeated the mans words in the phrase, "If you can" (Cole, 1989) which was followed by the declaration, "Everything is possible for him who believes" (v. 23; NIV). The latter comment was a gentle correction that "those who have faith [including the father] will set no limits to the power of God" (Garland, 1996, p. 355). Moreover, this story highlights how doubting can be a un-scary' and even safe experience. In the presence of incarnate God, the desperate father's comments and behavior revealed he could be honest about his hesitations.


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Keith A. Puffer

Indiana Wesleyan University

Data collection and analyses along with manuscript editing in this study resulted from the untiring and valuable assistance from Amy Butterfield, Ali Cruce, Dorothy Easterly, Stephanie Hall, Stephanie Metzler, Kris Pence, Sarah Smith, Marisa Spencer, Jesse Stanford, and Leslie Whonsetler.

Author Information

PUFFER, KEITH A. Ph.D. Address: Indiana Wesleyan University, Psychology Department, 4201 S. Washington, Marion, Indiana 46953. Email: Title: Professor of Psychology and licensed therapist. Degrees: Ph.D., Purdue University; M.A. (Theological Studies) International School of Theology, San Bernardino, CA. Specialities: counseling, career development, integration, and psychology of religion.
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Date:Sep 22, 2013
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