Wednesday 29 April 2015

Have you a Jewish personality?


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.


  1. One of the most amusing questions I've ever been asked was by a Jewish friend of my wife; said friend was then teaching students in Social Science.

    She said "You know some statistics?"
    "You know the normal curve?"
    "Where exactly does it cross the x-axis?"

  2. Jews are low on neuroticism? Really?

    This shows the limitations of cross-group personality comparisons.

    And what is this with people and using the Big Five when the HEXACO is clearly relevant?

    I still don't buy this existence of a "general factor of personality". The sign of one factor is wrong for their r/K theory (K-strategists should be more introverted).

    Maybe this is a matter of trying to fit square reality into a round theoretical hole.

  3. You know, if there is such a thing as a general factor of personality, it won't be one factor that's the same from group to group. Different groups would have had different "optimal" personality profiles (assuming that there's such a thing). The idea here that within population personality variation is caused by genetic load (which I doubt). In that case within population variation map onto a GFP, one that would vary from group to group.

  4. AnonymousCoward29 April 2015 at 17:47

    If there's one thing they're known for, it's high agreeableness and low neuroticism.

    African-Americans also score high on self-assessment of those same traits, including openness, stability, etc. While East Asians self-assess somewhat in the opposite direction.

  5. James, there is "No evidence for a General Factor of Personality in the HEXACO Personality Inventory" as reported by de Vries in 2011.

    1. Interesting Mark. I'd like to see that with a much larger (10x), non-Psych 101 sample.

    2. How badly would you like to see it? For $10,000, I'll do it. I don't think you really have good reason for wanting n > 500, and obviously I can't guarantee results one way or another. Yet even the most callow student of statistics knows that the results of factor analysis depend on the items under analysis. Using inventories containing enough items that pit socially desirable personality traits against each other (e.g. X vs O or C vs H) will inevitably return a GFP totally different from "the" GFP found in analyses of Big Five personality scales (which have always suffered from poor discriminant validity).

      In fact, I believe I might even be able to generate a battery of mental test items that would show near-zero correlation with standard g, if you wanted that. The trick would be using items with very low g-loadings but high group-factor loadings across two different group factors with differential correlations with subject age; items like perhaps forward digit span and spelling ability. There really would be a trick to it, since g is a truly real phenomenon arising from the fact that there is a "right" answer to any IQ test item. But factor analysis is blind; it knows only what you put into it. If enough negatively correlated items could be found, then g wouldn't be.

    3. Michael A. Woodley of Menie3 May 2015 at 15:32

      From: Irwing, P. (2013). The General Factor of Personality: Substance or artefact? Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 234-242.

      "The HEXACO, as compared with all other personality inventories produces atypically small correlations between its six broad factors. It is sometimes argued that any example of data in which there is no higher-order factor of personality disproves the existence of a GFP (de Vries, 2011). This is not the case. There are many reasons why personality scales may not correlate. Probably the most important is the phenomenon of rotational indeterminacy. Factor axes can in principle be rotated to any position in factor space. Some of these positions are orthogonal and some oblique, but they are all mathematically equivalent (Mulaik, 2005). Irrespective of their true position, therefore, it is perfectly possible to place factor axes into a position such that scale scores do not correlate. This could quite probably explain the small correlations observed between the broad factors of the HEXACO." (p. 239).

    4. The solution is to use item-level data then, which gets around the rotation question.

    5. Michael A. Woodley of Menie5 May 2015 at 14:20

      No, item-level data are plagued by reliability issues. The solution is to compute unit-weighted factors, as these generalize to a far better extent than factor solutions derived using more conventional dimension reduction techniques.

  6. How do you define "Jew?". Some Jewish sects follow very different practices. For example, Kiryas Joel in New York state:,_New_York.

    1. The interlocutor is presumably defining Jew = ethnic Ashkenazi.

    2. Ah, so Karl Marx and Jacques Derrida would be Jews, while Benjamin Disraeli and David Ricardo would not be?

      Very confusing.

    3. Derrida was born in Algeria to Sephardic Jewish parents. He was not an Ashkenazi.

  7. Hbd- ''analysis''... Le sacre-d-croweu??
    expected by psychopathic "psychologues''.
    If James is like a joo... James will be...


  8. Raciss follows:

    I'd like to take a stab at answering the question “How do Jews argue, in your opinion?”

    In my opinion, a "Jew" will argue more like a lawyer. This is a sweeping generalization which I'll disambiguate somewhat.

    It seems to hold for the following values of "Jew": ethnic Ashkenazi, practicing religious Orthodox, and anyone schooled in the Jesuit tradition (or similar). It does not hold for converts to Atheism or Christianity (Protestantism particularly, do Jews ever convert to Catholicism?), and I don't think I've ever known any ethnic Sephardi (or any non-European Jews, for that matter).

    The characterization "like a lawyer" seems to be true for many different connotations. It can mean formal and "legalistic", either as a compliment for conscientiousness adherence to rules, or as an insult to mean this trait is taken to absurd excesses. It often means abstract precision, perhaps to the exclusion of common sense, which can be good if the reasoning ends in a correct conclusion (as often in abstract maths using complex numbers), and absurd otherwise. It can also be unabashedly insulting in the sense that lawyers are often unscrupulous rhetoricians, which also seems to be over-represented amongst the Jewish groups mentioned above.

    Like many stereotypes these tendencies are overemphasized- for instance, Africans are not universally dumb. The Nigerian American phenomenon alone demonstrates many Africans are extremely bright. But the African mean IQ is still significantly lower than the European mean IQ.

  9. The Jews I personally know in America are very disagreeable and risk aversion. My current girlfriend is German American Jew by heritage. She has above features.


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