Worldviews shape personality

July 21, 2013 - 05:00

Ways we view the world strongly influence what sort of people we are. A worldview reflects personality and behavioural patterns, according to a Swedish researcher.

(Photo: Colourbox)

A personal worldview is comprised of the basic assumptions or concepts we have of the world.

Our worldviews provide structure to our thoughts and actions. They might give an answer to key issues like the meaning of life, whether we perceive humans as good or evil or whether we believe in a higher power or deity.

“By charting an individual’s personal worldview we could account for 40 percent of  people’s political identities in Sweden – how far to the right or left they stood. By comparison, this figure is only 25 percent when using behaviour patterns,” explains Artur Nilsson of Sweden’s Lund University.

“This is compelling, given that psychology traditionally focuses on behavioural patterns when describing a personality,” says Nilsson.

Holistic understanding

Some 1,800 persons in Sweden and the USA participated in the study, which aimed at charting their worldviews.

“They were asked to grade, on a scale of one to seven, how much they agreed or disagreed with statements in a questionnaire,” says Nilsson.

He says the results show that persons who assign inherent values to all other people have a tendency to accentuate the importance of imagination and innovation in science, as well as equality and care in moral and political issues.

Those who believe humans achieve values in relation to external norms have a tendency to stress objectivity, discipline and tradition.

“Little research has been done on the subject of how worldview forms personality. This is because empiricism, which says that ultimately all knowledge stems from sensory perception, has historically been the dominant view in psychology.”

He says that psychology has thus focused on things that are readily observable, what can be measured and touched. Behaviour or behavioural patterns have been the focus of personality research.

“Worldview is also a sweeping concept but I think it is just what is needed to help unite a fragmented discipline and provide a comprehensive understanding of the various pieces of a person’s totality,” says Nilsson.

Utilising worldviews

Nilsson explains that our worldview is dependent upon our culture and is comprised of much more than basic assumptions or concepts.

“People in India have a different worldview than people in Sweden. Things such as personal experiences, genes and environment, personal reflections, the kinds of cultural influences we are subjected to and a lot of other aspects play roles and affect our worldview.”

“But in my research I see individual differences within a given cultural context.

Even though individuals share the same cultural background, we observe definite differences in personality in their worldviews,” says the doctor.

How can we make use of the fact that worldviews have a key role in personalities?

“Like I said, psychology has traditionally been good at splitting the individual into various parts, but to understand the whole individual you have to also understand his or her worldview. By increasing our knowledge of worldviews we getter a better understanding of how they shapes our lives.”

“There are many types of worldviews. Which processes govern these? How can they coexist in a multicultural society and how can one modify one’s worldview when it meets resistance in the course of our lives?” queries Nilsson.

Within clinical psychiatry

When we encounter serious problems in life our wordview can be challenged and this can be experienced as very traumatic.

Nilsson says a classic example is if the world ceases to be experienced as fair and just. Meaning and context are central in our worldview and when it collapses we have to modify our picture to avoid emptiness, loss of motivation, etc. 

“Greater insight regarding how we challenge and modify our own worldview to cope with adversity can also be used within clinical psychology,” he explains.

Are we conscious of our own worldview?

“That depends somewhat on how deeply we delve into ourselves, but generally in everyday life we trod along rather unaware of our worldview.”

“Worldview permeates what we do and think and is often something we ordinarily take for granted, rather than question,” says Nilsson.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling

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