Don’t Believe Your Lying Eyes
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
In May of 2018, people everywhere were asking, “Laurel or Yanny?” When asked in a poll on Twitter, 53% of 500,000 people said they heard “Laurel” and 47% swore they heard “Yanny.” Fistfights broke out in the streets as people argued over the “real” name.
Did you believe all of the first paragraph? If not, which part didn’t you believe, and why?
The first two sentences are probably correct, and the last is probably false. Note the use of the word “probably,” but that’s because any good skeptic will say that all evidence is conditional and might change by adding new information.
As far as we know, in the real world, there was no physical violence because of heated “Laurel or Yanny” arguments. Instead, most people seemed pleasantly amused by the auditory illusion.
But suppose the evening news reported riots in the street over the recording. The Laurel gang slightly outgunned the Yanny people because of their higher numbers – but the Yanny people came on strong, anyway. Would you believe it? More precisely, suppose a news source you trust reported it? (Not that other news source that you’re sure is always slanted.) Would you believe it then? And if you did, would it be any more accurate than it already isn’t? Are you likely to side with the group representing the name you heard?
There are several layers of belief and skepticism at play here. The first is believing what your ears tell you – either Laurel or Yanny. The second may be thinking there might be an explanation for why both names are present, but you can only hear one. (There is.) And the third is trusting or distrusting sources that act as surrogates for collecting the facts and distilling the “truth.” (Our fictional account of riots.)
Welcome to the wild, many-layered world of skepticism and belief. It’s a fascinating world where seeing is believing – or not. Our perception is always fooling us, and most of what we see is our brains’ translation of the light detected by our eyes. So, even our senses are unreliable. Ask any optical illusion. Or any detective who interviews several witnesses of a crime, only to expect the usual widely varied reports. Trust involves believing in something or someone. But perhaps there are times we need to question our trust.
And we haven’t even talked about beliefs that filter through our opinions and other biases that cloud our reality and thwart our attempts to solidify them into some absolute truth. Nobody escapes such biases. We all have them.
And what about faith? The faithful believe without the assurance provided by tangible evidence. Where does that fit?
It’s complex. So, before we go further down the rabbit hole of reality, perception, evidence, and belief – and it is a deep rabbit hole – let’s focus our purpose. This article explores how personalities play into this. Who is more prone to healthy skepticism and who is more prone to sincere faith and belief – if there are any personality trait differences at all? We’ll look at how personality plays out in matters of faith, believing in other people, news…fake news…and conspiracy theories. Finally, we’ll explore the extent to which some personality types trust science, and we’ll take a somewhat lighter look at who believes in phenomena for which the evidence is sparse, if it exists at all.
We drew many conclusions, either directly or by implication, from thousands of individuals who responded to the polls in our 16Personalities research surveys and individual poll questions. We also applied ideas from outside sources where it seemed relevant.
- Beliefs are not always simple things. Sometimes, it helps to question them.
Skepticism vs. Belief, and Why Skepticism and Cynicism Are Not the Same
“Scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
There’s one more piece of definitional housekeeping before we dive into personalities. Let’s define the players for our purposes in this article.
Skeptics: People who lean toward skepticism are more likely to demand a certain level of evidence before their thinking shifts to belief. Blind faith is unlikely to be a part of their thinking. Skepticism is differentiated here from cynicism. The skeptic is likely to enjoy an open mind and is willing to entertain evidence that can change their mind.
Cynics, on the other hand, are usually closed-minded and typically start with the premise that others are corrupt and, therefore, untrustworthy reporters. They have usually made up their minds that something is negative even before anyone offers evidence. It’s almost the negative and opposite side of belief: they reject an idea without proof. But skepticism and cynicism are often used interchangeably and, by most definitions, that’s an incorrect usage.
While skeptics don’t accept things quickly and without some substantial proof, theirs is a much more positive approach. Genuine skeptics don’t merely say no to conjecture and then hold firm to their convictions. Skepticism means, “There is no proof – convince me. I’m willing to learn.” Just as a scientist might, skeptics start with a null hypothesis: “At this point, what you say is not true for me. It will only be true when you provide the evidence for it being so. When you present such evidence, I will accept it as true.”
Someone who leans toward skepticism might find relying on something they can’t materially experience to be absurd. But genuine skeptics appreciate that they’re not omniscient and may not have the information needed to speak with authority or disprove any assertions from others. Most scientists consider the things they “prove” conditional – further evidence may alter their findings or put it in a broader context, which gives it a different meaning.
So, without evidence either for or against a concept, skeptics wouldn’t say, “Your beliefs are nonsense.” Instead, they would say, “I don’t know.” A skeptic may doubt a matter, but they always leave room to be convinced.
Believers: Belief means accepting something as real, but a belief doesn’t necessarily require evidence. However, there are different layers to that. A skeptic becomes a believer the moment they have adequate proof. But when we think of believers, we typically think of individuals who rely on faith.
When a person believes, there may be a couple of elements involved. There can be a desire to fill holes in one’s understanding of life (or almost any part of life) by accepting something as true. For example, death is often feared, so belief may allow someone to deal with it by accepting a doctrine that promotes life after death.
People can also use belief to organize their lives by bolstering standards and consistency. Believing in the rightness (or even wrongness) of something like manners may be an example. Patriotic fervor can be a form of belief. Science, as the answer to all questions, assumes that all questions can be answered by science. This standard, then, falls under the auspices of belief.
Belief can also be about trustworthiness and may allow positive relationships of all kinds to be strengthened. Relationships without trust (belief) are unlikely to be positive. (More on that below.)
The difference between a skeptic and a believer is merely the evidence and data that they demand. And, as always with such things, few people reside at the extremes of skepticism and belief – although most of the population may lean more to one side than the other. Still, most dwell somewhere between the two extremes.
For this article, we’ll use the following generally accepted definitions:
- Skeptics are those who need proof before they accept something as accurate. Typically, they are open-minded, but evidence guides them for the most part.
- Believers don’t necessarily need proof and often take things on faith.
- Skepticism and cynicism are not the same. Cynics typically start from a negative position – and evidence is unlikely to change their minds.
- Write three things you believe in. These are things in your life that you accept without having proof. (We all have them.)
- Write three things you skeptically question. What matters in your life require evidence for you to accept them fully? (We also all have these.)
- Take some time to think about numbers 1 and 2. Using percentages that add up to 100%, what percentage do you subjectively consider yourself a “believer” and how much a “skeptic”? This step is not a math problem – there is no exact number, just your impression of yourself.
Why Our Personality Style Matters
“But people could walk the same road and see different things.”
We live in an information age where we get, by some estimates, the equivalent of 34 gigabytes of information a day on average. (However, a skeptic may want to look deeper into where that number came from. Such “facts” sometimes seem to shift every day.) Whether that is true or not, we clearly have a lot of information to sort through daily – and a lot of decisions to make in response to the data we receive.
So, are you more driven by skepticism or belief? Perhaps your personality traits point you primarily toward skepticism. Your style has you examining as much of life’s enormous amount of data as possible to determine what is legitimate and what is not. But because of this personality characteristic, you may ask too many annoying questions, resulting in eye-rolling behind your back. People need a break from constant questioning.
However, moderating skepticism isn’t just a matter of social expediency. Sometimes a leap of faith is needed to streamline life. Those personality types prone to skepticism may have trouble “leaping” freely enough. Such a jump is an abbreviation: “I’ll accept that as true but only to move the process along.” The phrase “paralysis by analysis” was made for skeptics who don’t know when to draw the line on their inquiries. Always demanding more information before moving ahead can leave one perpetually waiting. If you recognize that your personality is predisposed to skepticism, that awareness can help you balance too much of a good thing.
If your personality traits have you leaning more toward belief, what are the parameters of that? Are you willing to take a costly supplement for your health because of claims made online in a single article, or should you dig deeper? Do you trust most of what a news source tells you because it confirms what you already believe? Do you take a little time to research so you can separate the “fake news” from the real deal? It may help to give some other sources of information a chance occasionally. Knowing your personality preferences can help you see when your thinking becomes too automatic and when adding a touch more skepticism can be for the best.
With all that information and all of the decisions we need to make based on it, it’s useful to have a handle on our tendencies. Knowing their comfort zone can help people better understand how and why they accept the things they do as facts. Discovering one’s tendencies by exploring personality traits and types can prove most useful. Learning to balance our tendencies can lead to more accurate assessments of what is factual and what is not – or perhaps, sometimes, what is helpful and what is not.
The first step to achieving balance is awareness.
- Whether we are skeptics or believers determines how we process the enormous amount of information about the world that we receive in a day.
- Personality traits can influence a person to be either more skeptical or more likely to live more by faith.
- Personality types prone to skepticism may need to balance their skepticism with belief at times, if for no other reason than to move things along.
- Personality types prone to belief may need to adjust their level of trust in order to have a more accurate view of some of the realities in life.
- Balance is often the answer to problems in personality theory, and knowing one’s penchant for skepticism or belief can help bring about a sense of balance.
What Our Community Told Us about Skepticism and Belief through Our Research
“Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.”
Let’s start with a foundation: Who likely needs more evidence and who probably needs less? Who usually believes more freely, and who do we expect to question things more? These questions are answered in a consistent pattern, and, because of that, the following section serves as a template for all other parts of this article. We will use these repeating patterns to talk about various situations that involve skepticism and belief.
With Skepticism, the Thinking Trait Rules
It’s almost stating the obvious to say that those personality types that fall under the umbrella of the Analyst Role, and other Thinking types, are more likely to report leaning toward skepticism. Thinking types tend to dig deeper and investigate in order to extract all the knowledge they can from an interest. This digging, by any other name, is for evidence that supports an idea.
Analysts are more likely to pick concepts or systems apart – always deconstructing and reconstructing according to any evidence they find. Analysts tend not only to see themselves as skeptical but also to see the people around them as not being skeptical enough. Most Analysts say they believe it’s better to be skeptical by default.
90% of Analysts say their beliefs are predominantly determined by evidence, compared to 87% of Sentinels, 84% of Explorers, and 65% of Diplomats.
But Analysts are not the only Thinking personality types. Other Roles contain individuals with the Thinking trait who also tend to say they are skeptical. We see that both Sentinels and Explorers think that their belief system is predominantly the product of evidence, and both have members who typically decide things using the Thinking trait. For example, among Explorers, 96% of Virtuosos (ISTP) say their beliefs are mostly born of evidence.
With Belief, the Feeling Trait Leads the Way
The Feeling personality trait, which includes Diplomats, some Sentinels, and some Explorers, is the trait that predicts a pro-belief response in our research. But Diplomats also share the Intuitive trait with Analysts. Our studies show that the Intuitive trait is likely to predict skepticism more than the Observant trait (we’ll see something interesting about this later), but only by a small amount. However, the Intuitive trait does not appear to be a deciding factor in skepticism or belief to the degree that the Thinking and Feeling traits tend to be.
Whereas skepticism leans toward intellectual thinking, belief comes more from the gut, the visceral instinct that is often a feeling. It’s important to remember that we tightly link Thinking and Feeling to the decision-making process of the individual. It’s easy to see how deciding that something is real without demanding a large amount of evidence can be a product of Feeling. This can also affect how much trust those with the trait are willing to place in others.
Observant Trait and Evidence
“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
We assume from its standard definition that skeptics require evidence. Observant personality types, when asked if they’re skeptics (using that specific word), are less likely to say they are when compared to Intuitive types. But when we change the poll statement to use the word “evidence” instead of “skeptic,” the Intuitive and Observant traits typically switch dominance. Observant types are slightly more likely to endorse pro-evidence questions than Intuitive types.
This respect for evidence makes sense, considering that those with the Observant trait relate better to things that are observable and are experienced concretely. What better way to observe and experience something than colliding with tangible proof? Observant types probably look at questions of skepticism and belief from a practical angle. If a concept wanders too far from that which is useful and obvious, Observant types are likely to trend a bit more toward being skeptical – if they bother with it at all. If it falls within their experience or seems “sensible,” they are likely to trend toward believing.
But Observant personalities are less likely to see themselves as skeptics, even though they are more comfortable with an evidentiary foundation for the conclusions they draw. This might partially be the result of the popular confusion of the words “skepticism” and “cynicism.” Those with the Observant trait might answer skepticism polls differently if the polls asked, “How skeptical are you, meaning that you’re someone who needs evidence before deciding something?”
- Those with the Thinking trait, including Analysts, tend to lean toward skepticism and questioning rather than belief.
- Those with the Feeling trait, including Diplomats, tend to lean toward belief and trust, rather than skepticism.
- Those with the Observant trait – Sentinels and Explorers – are likely to feel more comfortable with concrete evidence. However, any question of skepticism and belief is also probably set off by how practical the matter is for Observant types.
- Does our research on skepticism and belief match your experience? (It doesn’t have to. You may be a minority or majority within your Role, personality type, or shared trait group, and other factors may be in play with this topic. That’s perfectly acceptable and doesn’t mean that you are any more or less a member of your Role, type, or shared trait group.)
- Can you think of examples where our research on skepticism and belief makes sense in your life? Can you think of instances where it doesn’t?
Belief, Skepticism, and Religion
Faith is believing in something without proof being present in the moment of belief. Faith often aligns with religion, and as touchy as the subject sometimes is, we don’t want to disregard that alignment. However, this part of the article is about exploring which personality types are likely to rely on religious faith, not about whether doing so is valid or not. (That’s a different discussion and something of little interest here.) So, anyone who embraces religious belief should feel safe from criticism and see these pages as a nonjudgmental place.
There can also be a broader take on faith, which we investigate throughout the article. Faith can be seen among skeptics as well. A much-used example is the SETI Institute. One of their main focuses is a search for life beyond Earth’s atmosphere. They make no claims that there is any. There is no concrete evidence to back such a statement. Yet, their equipment searches for signs and signals.
Why? Because there is a statistical probability that we are not alone. The scientists at SETI have enough faith in the math to spend time and money scanning the skies for some indication of life. Their faith isn’t a belief in little green men. Their faith is in statistics, possibilities, and probabilities. Their work in astrobiology involves remotely exploring and finding places where life might exist because of those probabilities. But, until they find something that matches our definition of life, putting that many resources into their work is a matter of faith.
A leap of faith might involve religion. But it can just as likely have a secular meaning. However, for skeptics, it usually requires some evidence first. With believers, that leap often happens without such proof.
75% of those with the Feeling trait say they have strong beliefs about things they can’t explain, compared to 44% of those with the Thinking trait.
Pro-belief and faith questions are almost always endorsed more by personalities with the Feeling trait. It’s also the trait shared by the individuals most likely to say people are skeptical enough just as they are. They see no need for more skepticism in the world. Free-spirited Campaigners (ENFP) from among the Diplomats are the types who are most satisfied with the current level of skepticism in society and see no reason for more of it.
However, it should be noted that Sentinels and Diplomats are almost identical (Sentinels at 65% and Diplomats at 64%) in saying they live their lives with a strong sense of faith. It seems to be in a more limited sense for Sentinels. They are more likely to tie their faith and spirituality to their religion and may see it as something codified and specific in their lives. As we shall see below, Diplomats have a broader belief in things as a rule, which is often not defined by any firm doctrine or religious institution.
Those with the Feeling trait are more likely than those with the Thinking trait to say they trust their instincts over evidence. But almost half of Thinking personalities say they do so as well. So, following one’s gut is not exclusively the domain of Feeling types, but comparatively, they are more likely to do so. Relying on intuition – and the imagination that usually accompanies it – increases the likelihood of a strong sense of instinct.
(Anyone familiar with our theory might think that Intuitive, Assertive individuals are more likely to trust their instincts than Intuitive, Turbulent individuals. After all, they tend to trust themselves more in all things. However, our research indicates otherwise. A small difference appears, with Turbulent responders following their instincts slightly more. But, statistically speaking, the two are virtually the same.)
Religion vs. Spirituality
People do not always see religion and spirituality as the same thing. Sentinels were the Role most likely to say they were religious – but still, only five out of ten said so. These personalities also tend to link the idea of spirituality to their religious practices more than any other Role. This leaning makes sense, since Sentinels are often tradition-based, and religion frequently is a part of tradition. It’s not a long leap to think that they would anchor any definition of spirituality to their traditions.
51% of Sentinels said religion plays a central role in their lives, compared to 43% of Diplomats, 37% of Explorers, and 26% of Analysts.
A vast majority of Diplomats see themselves as spiritual. Just under half of Diplomat responders said they are exclusively spiritual, and an additional third of them described themselves as both religious and spiritual.
Diplomats are more likely to engage in mystical beliefs that might also fit the label of “spirituality.” There may even be a starry-eyed idealism, or utopian ideal, associated with such spiritual beliefs. That would be right up Diplomats’ alley: “If people from all over meditated together, we could unify the world and even bring about world peace.” These personalities may more easily attach themselves to ideas like becoming a spiritual warrior or the existence of soul mates. They may use “God” and “the Universe” interchangeably.
There are some places where Sentinels’ and Diplomats’ reliance on faith and spirituality overlap. They both tend to rely on rituals to help them through difficult times and have a belief that humans have a soul or spirit that survives death.
Not surprisingly, Analysts are the least likely among the Roles to claim to be religious or to depend on the trappings of spirituality. Religion often defies accepted logic and understanding and may not provide the evidence Analysts usually prefer.
When it comes to describing themselves as spiritual, Analysts, Explorers, and Sentinels break almost even, leaving Diplomats alone as the Role most likely to believe in the transcendent as a substantial part of life.
- Faith can be spiritual, religious, or even secular. Trusting in anything is faith. It might even include trusting math or scientific principles.
- Diplomats lean more toward the spiritual rather than the religious, although a third of them claim to be both spiritual and religious.
- Sentinels tend to be the most religious group. They tend not to separate religion and spirituality, seeing them as the same thing.
- Analysts are the least likely to claim to be religious.
- Do you separate religion and spirituality?
- Are you religious, spiritual, both, or neither?
- Does the way you see yourself in matters of faith match the description of your personality type as described above?
Believing in Others…or Not
“I‘m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
Similar patterns of belief and skepticism can also show up in our relationships with others. Trust in another is the belief that someone will act nobly and honestly, whereas mistrust is the belief that someone will not. This distrust can happen with or without evidence. People can feel suspicious of someone just on a vague hunch. But there is little positive human connection without some level of trust or belief in another.
It takes a leap of faith every time someone entrusts another with something that belongs to them – no matter how large or small, concrete or abstract the entrusted things might be. Con men make a living from taking advantage of those who trust easily. Relationships can go astray when advantage-taking exists within them.
71% of Diplomats say they generally have faith in people, compared to 64% of Sentinels, 62% of Explorers, and 31% of Analysts.
Those who trust others too slowly or too cautiously – the more skeptical, perhaps – may find that their social lives aren’t all they could be. People will not wait around forever as others scrutinize them. But relationships reasonably tested for trustworthiness, as a skeptic might test one, are perhaps the healthiest and longest-lasting connections, if they turn skepticism into solid belief. So, skepticism and belief do play a role in how we behave toward each other and the quality of our lives.
People with the Feeling trait are more likely to say they trust others than those with the Thinking trait. The same holds for Extraverted individuals when compared to those who are Introverts.
When we combine the dominant qualities of Feeling personality types – their greater willingness to believe and their focus on humanity and people – a high level of trusting others seems a natural result. While all Feeling types are included, this combination points toward Diplomats, all of whom have that trait, more than any other group. One concern we often talk about with Diplomats in other places is the potential for people to take advantage of them because they trust so easily.
But as much as Diplomats and Feeling types are more willing to trust others, they are also more likely to express a fear of being rejected or hurt by others. Within their trust, there lurks a mistrust of the certainty of their relationships.
72% of Diplomats are afraid of being abandoned by their friends, compared to 57% of Sentinels, 55% of Explorers, and 47% of Analysts.
Likely the difference is between concept and reality. As an ideological principle, Diplomats and perhaps other Feeling types are likely to see trusting others as a noble attitude worth embracing. But when there is much invested in a person or idea, there is also much to lose.
If Diplomats didn’t place such value on relationships, they might be less afraid to lose them. So, while they give their trust more freely, they also know that betrayal is always a possibility and that someone trustworthy today might not be trustworthy tomorrow. Their belief in others may be strong, but it’s not unlimited. And their imaginations likely provide many scenarios for intentional or unintentional betrayal.
Analysts also have strong imaginations. True to their skeptical nature, Thinking types, particularly Analysts, are less likely to trust others easily. In one poll, more than half of them (and more than any other group) said they feel like they can’t depend on their friends or families. They are more likely to look hard for proof of one’s trustworthiness before giving their trust away.
89% of Analysts say they make conscious efforts to avoid being dependent on other people, compared to 82% of Sentinels, 82% of Explorers, and 77% of Diplomats.
Even those people who Thinking types choose to trust sometimes remain continuously under their scrutiny, and each of their actions becomes a test. A more sensitive personality type may have trouble enduring such constant testing. Continually having to prove oneself can feel burdensome and unfriendly or unloving. But as mentioned before, if Thinking types feel that they have collected enough positive evidence, the quality of their loyalty will likely be strong.
Just as Feeling types are prone to trusting too quickly, Thinking types can shift things too much toward not believing in others at all. Some Diplomats may have personal boundaries that others can penetrate too easily. Some Analysts may have highly impermeable barriers, allowing only a select, well-tested group of people into their circle of trust. As always, none of this applies to all Feeling types or all Thinking types – but their tendencies are markedly different.
- Feeling types are more likely than Thinking types to trust others.
- There are dangers inherent in too much trust or distrust. Too much confidence in others can lead to being taken advantage of, and too little trust can prevent solid relationships from forming.
- Do you trust easily, or do you require proof of trustworthiness? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being trusting too quickly and 10 being never trusting, what number would you say you are?
- How does that match (or not match) your personality type?
The Media, Conspiracy Theories, and Fake News
They say, at a party, one should never discuss religion or politics. We, however, are bravely tackling both in our mission to uncover as much as we can about skepticism and belief.
But we can discuss personalities without getting into the divisive things that often are a part of politics, news, and conspiracy theories. This is purely descriptive and focused on describing personality features that stand out in different scenarios. Rest easy. Your political views or ideologies won’t be assaulted in this article. We’re more interested in each of us understanding ourselves better. You can draw your own political conclusions from there.
At other times in history, it may have been enough to include only politics and the media in this section. Fake news and conspiracies would get a minor mention. But these two phrases are tossed around in political and media circles worldwide now. Google the phrase “conspiracy theory” and a continent, and you’ll find few places without them. The Internet provides a natural habitat for divergent and perhaps wilder ideas that often influence politics and governments. There’s been nothing like it in history. And so, we include it here in our discussion.
Accepting or Questioning the Consensus
To set the stage, let’s explore who is more likely to accept a consensus. This is important because the will of the people plays a role in most governments. When people have had enough of not feeling heard or being respected, historically, governments have toppled. So, what does accepting popular wisdom have to do with skepticism and belief? Such acceptance requires a leap of faith and trust in the wisdom of the crowd. Skeptics are less likely to take that leap; those prone to believe are more likely.
Those who believe that the majority generally makes correct decisions are less likely to question elections or even the consent of a people who allow a leader to remain in place in nondemocratic systems. This can be interpreted – or misinterpreted – as “blind faith” or a “sheep mentality.” But it can also be the product of a fundamental belief in people or a strong sense of loyalty. Either way, belief is needed.
34% of Sentinels say the opinion of the majority is usually right, compared to 27% of Explorers, 24% of Diplomats, and 16% of Analysts.
When asked if the opinion of the majority is usually right, only 22% of all 16 personality types agree on average. In other words, only one in five respondents show a proclivity for believing in the wisdom of the crowd. However, within that low number, those with the Observant trait and the Feeling trait are most likely to accept a group consensus. Sentinels have the most trust in the crowd. To be clear, that only includes about a third of Sentinels. Even in the group that’s “most likely to,” only a minority fits the bill.
We often talk about Sentinels as individuals who are incredibly loyal to the people in their lives. So, the slight increase may be a product of loyalty, which is a form of trust that is, in turn, a form of belief. On top of that, this group frequently endorses things that are more traditional and established. It’s quite possible that the prominent opinion of a majority may feel like the status quo to them. Some Sentinels may say, “If most people in my group believe this, then this must be our standard.”
The Intuitive trait seems to foster less willingness to believe that the majority is correct. Diplomats, who are usually more people-positive and trusting, fall below both Sentinels and Explorers in trusting groupthink and just above Analysts. Intuitive personalities usually consider a more holistic, “big picture” view of things. It may be that Diplomats’ belief in the majority is scuttled by the presence of multiple options that are delivered through their intuition. “Sure. A lot of people believe this. But is that the only possible choice? I think not.”
Believing the Media, Fake News, and Conspiracy Theories
In our research, it seems that an overwhelming majority of all types fall into the skeptic (or maybe cynic) category when it comes to news sources. Only an average of 15% of all personality types think that most news providers are diligent enough when making conclusions based on evidence, and an average of 89% believe that the news media is biased. Sentinels and Explorers are more trusting of media, but only by a small amount.
In other words, not believing that the press delivers accurate and objective information is a somewhat universal position among our poll respondents. Disbelief abounds.
Which brings us to “fake news.” When there is such a lack of belief in the news delivered by traditional news sources, it almost invites untrue stories into the mix. If it’s all tainted, then it’s just a matter of picking the one that is most pleasing or interesting to the news consumer. The importance of whether it’s fake or not fake may fade into the background, since almost nothing is trusted, anyway.
Ninety-two percent of our research respondents reported in a recent poll that they use the Internet rather than newspapers to keep up to date with the latest news. While the Internet may be welcome because of its quick access to current events and ability to take information from the hands of a select few and put it in the hands of the many, there are also many potential problems presented by this more populist medium. Anybody has the capability of saying anything on the Internet within the limits of local law (which may or may not even be enforced). It remains a fertile ground for conspiracy theories.
So, when consuming news, who’s more willing to believe what they see, hear, or read? First, the news may not impact all groups in the same way. Sentinels are somewhat more likely to say they follow the news closely – especially those Sentinels with the Thinking trait. Sentinels and Analysts are almost equal in saying they are well-informed on current events.
When it comes to “fake news” or news created out of whole cloth without the benefit of facts, Analysts and their skeptical leanings are likely more willing to dig deeper. While it’s only a tendency rather than an established characteristic, Sentinels may be more willing to accept what news sources present to them. These personalities are somewhat more trusting of the media. They are also comparatively more patriotic than other types. If they see a news item coming from a source they believe supports the integrity of their country or their political party, they may be less likely to question it.
53% of Sentinels agreed that they follow news closely, compared to 49% of Analysts, 46% of Explorers, and 41% of Diplomats.
In our “Consuming the News” survey, Diplomats and Explorers nearly tie for the least likely to say they are well-informed when it comes to current events. Diplomats are also the Role that is most likely to say they even try to limit the amount of news they are exposed to. It’s not clear whether this is simple disinterest or mistrust on their part. It may also be that they become distressed by the suffering and injustice that they see on the news. While some Diplomats may consider such things motivational, allowing them to ignite their sense of social justice, many may find the sheer amount of painful news overwhelming.
In a separate poll, Diplomats were slightly more likely than others to say there are some news media they trust completely when they do partake in it. Individual Diplomats may want to explore this to make sure that they are not consuming news based only on that trust rather than objective evidence.
One hallmark of conspiracy theories (a close cousin of fake news) is that those who embrace them are often unwilling to give them up even when presented with evidence to the contrary. This stubbornness offers a few interesting possibilities when seen through the lens of personality types.
48% of Diplomats say they believe some or many conspiracy theories, compared to 36% of Explorers, 35% of Analysts, and 34% of Sentinels.
About half of our accepting Diplomats say they either believe some or many of the conspiracy theories they encounter. But just as many say they have completely changed their minds about a conspiracy theory in the past. This willingness to change their minds suggests that Diplomats may have a fragile hold on the conspiracy theories they believe and that they’re not as dogmatic about them as some people can be.
Imagination is an important ingredient when indulging in conspiracy theories, since they are generally a departure from obvious evidence. Almost half of Intuitive personality types say their instincts often disagree with evidence they’ve seen. So, it’s possible that, should they accept a conspiracy theory, those with the Intuitive trait may be more susceptible to ignoring proof for a hunch or an entrenched belief.
As for Sentinels and Explorers, their Observant trait is likely to make them more practical and prone to choosing conclusions that are apparent rather than hidden. Conspiracy theories are often a little exotic, mysterious, and have some distance from mainstream thought. These characteristics alone may place conspiracy theories far away from Sentinels and Explorers who see no practical elements in them. In support of this distance, Sentinels are also more likely than other Roles to see conspiracy theories as harmful to society. They can be a threat to the stability that Sentinels cherish.
- Sentinels are the most likely personalities to say they keep up with current events. They also indicate that they are more trusting of the press.
- Analysts are almost equal to Sentinels in saying they are well-informed about the news.
- All types appear skeptical of fake news and conspiracy theories – however, Diplomats are the most likely to admit that they sometimes believe them.
- Sentinels and Explorers, the Observant types, are less likely to pay attention to conspiracy theories because they are somewhat amorphous and “far away” from the mainstream.
- What’s the wildest conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard?
- Are there any unsubstantiated political or controversial happenings that others might refer to as conspiracy theories that you tend to believe? What makes you think they could be true?
- How do you see your unique personality fitting into all of this?
Science, Magic, and Sasquatch
The Limitations of Science
Most of all personality types seem to believe that there are forces in the universe that cannot be explained by science. Our “believers,” the Diplomats, are more likely to think that something exists beyond science in the universe. They are more likely to believe that there is a part of every human that science can’t explain. They are even more likely to attribute magical or mystical qualities to science.
48% of Diplomats see the most profound scientific concepts as somewhat “magical” or “spiritual,” compared to 28% of Explorers, 27% of Sentinels, and 26% of Analysts.
Although Analysts are part of “all types” – and, therefore, believe that the universe holds some secrets that cannot be explained in the laboratory – they are also the group most likely to believe that someday everything will be explained by science. “Cannot be explained” and “everything will be explained” are significantly different, but both are statements of belief offered by a significant number of Analysts. A pure skeptic would be unhappy with either contention because there is no evidence to support them.
But even everyday science with an abundance of proven data is sometimes seen as something to believe or not believe rather than accept as an established truth. Analysts are generally the most likely to trust science. Diplomats are the least likely.
As should be abundantly evident at this point, Analysts are more likely to rely on evidence (skepticism) as the foundation for their trust. For Diplomats? Their more spiritual and mystical tendencies may persuade them that there is something beyond science. (On such questions, Sentinels and Explorers tend to land closer to Diplomats than Analysts.) All this belief sets the stage for the unexplained…the supernatural.
The Supernatural, the Unexplained, and the Unproven: A List
We take a slightly lighter turn here as we look at how personality types generally regard the unexplained. This turn is not out of disrespect for those who believe in such things. But there is something humorous about the pattern being so set. Plus, the topics are fun and have been played with in almost all cultures.
It’s unlikely that you need the help. But so that there is no mistake about it, we’re providing you with the answers to all questions in advance:
From this point forward, the answer is Diplomats. It’s always Diplomats.
Let’s look at a few of the unexplained phenomena and things that go bump in the night that are often of interest to many.
Aliens: Most personality types involved in our research do not believe that aliens have visited Earth. However, those with the Intuitive trait are more likely to believe it than Observant types. Like SETI, their Intuitive imagination allows such beliefs to flourish slightly more even among skeptical Analysts, due to the probability that there is life outside of our solar system. So, while there is no evidence of a visit from E.T. to satisfy Analysts, if there’s a probability that E.T. – or some other sentient being – exists out there, then there is some possibility of a visit. But, of the Intuitive types, Diplomats are more likely to accept the existence of strange visitors from another planet.
Ghosts: Remember in the last section how Diplomats were more likely to believe that there’s a part of humans that science can’t explain? Diplomats are more accepting of the idea of a soul or spirit. What happens when, due to trauma or other unresolved business, they get trapped on this plane? Stories have been told about this for eons.
Ghosts. Who ya gonna call? Diplomats are also more likely to believe that there are souls trapped in our dimension. There is virtually no difference between Analysts or Sentinels, with Explorers only believing in ghosts slightly more than they do. This one goes to Diplomats again.
Communication with ghosts or spirits: Sentinels were the least likely personalities to try to contact the other side. This reluctance to chat with the dead is likely the result, once again, of their practicality and their preference for dealing with the concrete – which would be a blatant rejection of the ethereal. Oh…and…BTW, Diplomats were the Role most likely to have tried interdimensional communication.
58% of Diplomats say they believe in magic, compared to 36% of Explorers, 34% of Analysts, and 33% of Sentinels.
Magic: Personality types with the Feeling and Intuitive traits are more likely than those with any other traits to endorse a belief in magic. Imagination enhanced by emotions almost inevitably produces magical scenarios. Of the magical Diplomats, the most magical – or, at least, magic-believing – individuals are Mediators (INFP).
Haunted locations: The most interesting thing about this…yes, Diplomats do believe in haunted locations far more than any other type…but the most interesting thing about haunted locations is that almost half of our skeptical Analysts also say they believe in haunted places. Strangely, it’s a higher percentage of Analysts than those who believe in ghosts. The difference in these percentages is another thing that will go unexplained, at least for now.
Who has witnessed the supernatural: Yes. Diplomats. They were also the most likely to be fearful of the supernatural and to have used some means to ward off its evil forces. How awful, then, for them to have seen such things.
Sasquatch: We have no research on Sasquatch, but it’s probably easy to guess who might believe in our bigfooted friend and his cousin, the yeti. Go ahead. What’s your guess?
But before we decide that all Diplomats hang out in New Age bookstores, often, it’s only a minority of them who endorse these things. But not always.
When a Role or personality type polls higher than the others, yet still only make up a minority of the respondents from that group, we see this as an indication of a slightly higher tendency rather than any definitive way of describing the Role or the type. There is rarely, if ever, 100% agreement on anything within these groups. That said, it is safe to say that Diplomats tend to believe in the supernatural more than other Roles do – comparatively speaking.
But hold on, those of you who tend toward skepticism. Can you prove these things don’t exist?
- Diplomats are more likely than other personality types to suspend disbelief.
- The pattern of belief and skepticism remains almost the same, with our different Roles and traits reliably representing the same patterns throughout.
- No Role, type, or shared trait had a majority of people who believe in these unexplained things. It’s a matter of comparison and tendency rather than absolutes. Not all Diplomats believe these things – but if anyone does, the Diplomats are more likely to be among them.
- Which of the items listed in this section do you believe in? Sort of believe in? Absolutely don’t believe in?
- How do those categories match your type or your traits?
The Adventure of Believing and the Stabilizing Power of Skepticism
There is something about believing freely that can be beneficial. Diplomats and other Feeling personality types say they take leaps of faith more than other Roles or types. They also say their leaps work out for them more than other types. That may be subjective. But often, life is more interesting when a person takes risks, and adventurous risks can even lead to some form of thriving – even if it’s just in the realm of ideas.
But we always seek balance and believe that all the trait styles have some benefit to humanity. Imagine if the whole world placed belief ahead of healthy skepticism? The level of chaos would inevitably rise. And so, nature arranged for some people to ask the hard questions and demand evidence. That’s the role that Analysts and other Thinking types usually play in society.
And yet the world is more interesting (and possibly more of a forward-moving place) because there are those believers who are willing to take leaps without a net of certainty underneath them. They bring the gift of greater trust to the world.
So, whether you tend to be more of a skeptic or a believer, there’s a role for you to play.