At the stage in my life when I sometimes went to Speaker’s Corner on Sunday afternoons to listen to random opinions I got into conversation with other bystanders on some important matter of the day. Despite my lack of a soapbox, a small crowd gathered round me, and as the discussion became more intense one of my interlocutors suddenly demanded: “Are you a Jew?” I said I was not. “Well” came the reply “you argue like a Jew”.
You will understand, I am sure, that people who gather on a Sunday afternoon, avoiding the obvious attractions of sitting with an ice cream on a deckchair in Hyde Park in order to squabble about politics, are not a representative sample of humanity, me included, but the intended insult was instructive. I was mildly affronted that the accuser had made this mistake. Surely he could detect I was an expatriate, free thinking, non-practicing Protestant? What had I done wrong to generate these accusations of semitic tendencies?
Now, of course, with the calm wisdom of advancing years, I would have asked him: “How do Jews argue, in your opinion?” In point of fact, there may be Jewish, Protestant, Jesuit, and Anabaptist ways of having a Sunday afternoon argument. I little doubt that there are Wahhabi ways of arguing. Whether any of these presumptions are true is worth investigation, even if only to preserve life and limb in public places.
Whilst I cannot, just at the moment, provide direct evidence on the effects of religion on argumentation, I can pass on some findings about personality, from which types of arguing could be inferred.
Curtis S. Dunkel, Charlie L. Reeve, Michael A. Woodley of Menie, Dimitri van der Linden (2015) A comparative study of the general factor of personality in Jewish and non-Jewish populations. Personality and Individual Differences 78 (2015) 63–67
Dunkel and colleagues speculate that Jews will have high scores on the general factor of personality: Individuals high on the General Factor of Personality are altruistic, agreeable, relaxed, conscientious, sociable, and open-minded, with high levels of well-being and self-esteem. Those with poorer personalities are at the other end of the descriptive spectrum. They would tend to be selfish, disagreeable, anxious, not dependable, unsociable, closed-minded or rigid thinkers, with high levels of distress and low self-esteem.
The authors say that the personality traits of Jews are partly constituted by a group-level orientation towards slow life history strategy, characterized by a continuum of physiological and psychological variables. While a ‘fast’ life history strategy is characterized by high mating effort such as early maturation, weak pair bonds, and a focus on short-term mating, ‘slow’ life history is characterized by lower mating effort and the production of relatively fewer highly invested-in offspring. A key behavioural manifestation of life history is the general factor of personality, which is the common factor variance amongst various diverse personality measures – somewhat akin to the g factor of intelligence. On the basis of life history theory we therefore propose that Jews may have a higher GFP than non-Jews, and in conjunction with this hypotheses, it was predicted that differences in personality would be largest on the most GFP-loaded personality traits (e.g., there will be Jensen Effects associated with the group differences). Given that Jewish/non-Jewish difference in intelligence is well established and that there may be a substantial association between the GFP and intelligence (Dunkel, 2013), intelligence could drive any Jewish/non-Jewish differences in the GFP. Note that response bias is an alternative interpretation of the GFP (e.g., Bäckström, 2007) and, therefore, it could also simply be a matter of more intelligent individuals being more adept in presenting themselves in a positive light in their responses on personality questionnaires (Major, Johnson, & Deary, 2014). For this reason, along with the demographic variables of age and sex, intelligence was also controlled in the present analysis into this putative source of group differences.
The Big Five personality traits of Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness were measured using a five-point Likert-type scale to rate 20 items from the Mini-International Personality Item Pool. The first unrotated factor using Principal Axis Factoring (PAF) was used to extract a GFP. This factor had an Eigenvalue of .89 and explained 17.96% of the variance among the trait scales.
Here are the results for the 3 separate study samples: ADD Health, MIDUS II and Project Talent.
Get the whole paper here:
So perhaps my Speaker’s Corner antagonist was paying me a compliment in suggesting my arguments were Jewish: mature, socially sensitive, cultured, altruistic, agreeable, self-confident, relaxed, conscientious, sociable, and open-minded. I am willing to believe the best about human nature whenever possible, but that particular interpretation might be pushing things too far.