by ROWENA OREJANA
Stereotypes about religious belief influence the choice of a romantic partner, recent research shows.
The research by Otago University, the University of Maryland and Oxford University on religious homogamy showed the choice of a romantic partner may be driven not only by religion but by biases. Religious homogamy is the romantic pairing of people from the same religion.

Dr Jamin Halberstadt (Photo by Dr Cindy Hall)
Dr Jamin Halberstadt (Photo by Dr Cindy Hall)

Otago University psychology professor Dr Jamin Halberstadt, one of the main researchers, told NZ Catholic that “being religious signals your personality, correctly or incorrectly, to other
people”.
“There are some assumptions… most especially about religious beliefs. People take that to mean that you have a particular personality,” he said.
The research involved finding out people’s perception of a typical Christian and a typical atheist, as well as setting up a dating website where people could look at fictitious profiles of potential dating partners and evaluate them in terms of how promising they seem.
The potential partners were judged based on their religious behaviour; for example, how often they attended Mass or a religious service.
They were also judged based on their “openness to experience”. In psychology, “openness to experience” is one of the “big five” personality traits.
People who are open tend to be more creative and more aware of their feelings and are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs.
“Openness has something to do with people’s curiosity, I guess, a kind of intellectual and creative interest,” he explained. “We are interested in this because of the stereotype of very religious people in pop culture. You get the impression that religious people are closed-minded and unwilling to change their ideas.”
Dr Halberstadt said this tendency of secular people to keep clear of religious people because they’re closed-minded is what they called their “Ned Flanders” effect, after the character in the popular cartoon, The Simpsons. Ned Flanders is the family’s strait-laced, strictly religious
neighbour.
Dr Halberstadt said they found that as the religiosity of the potential partner increased, non-believers tended to like them less.
“[Non-believers] also thought that they (potential partners) were less open to experience, and so this one dimension kind of explained statistically their preferences,” he said.
What was surprising for the researchers, though, was that the reverse wasn’t true.
“I kind of thought there would be a symmetric thing where religious people might believe the opposite about nonreligious people. Non-believers tended to dislike people who attended religious services a lot, but religious people didn’t particularly prefer people who attended service,” he said.
What is more surprising, he said, is the particular attention both groups paid to the person’s “openness to experience”.
“It is not necessarily positive in everyone’s mind to be completely open to new ideas,” he said.
The study also found that nonbelievers preferred other non-believers, but would consider a religious person if he or she showed signs of being openminded.
“So openness to experience compensated for someone saying they were religious,” he said.
On the other hand, religious people preferred other religious people, but this preference is reduced when the person shows signs of being open-minded.
“This was another surprise, I would say. Both religious and non-religious people believe that religious behaviours are associated with open-mindedness but they took that to mean something
different,” he said.
Dr Halberstadt said researchers conducted three studies. The average age of participants in the first two was 22 and in the third, which involved an online dating website, 28.

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