Intelligence and Religiosity among Dating Site Users
Emil O. W. Kirkegaard 1,* and Jordan Lasker 2
1Ulster Institute for Social Research, London NW26 9LQ, UK
2Independent Scholar, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA; email@example.com
Received: 12 September 2019; Accepted: 18 December 2019; Published: 23 December 2019
We sought to assess whether previous ﬁndings regarding the relationship between cognitive
ability and religiosity could be replicated in a large dataset of online daters (maximum n=67k).
We found that self-declared religious people had lower IQs than nonreligious people (atheists and
agnostics). Furthermore, within most religious groups, a negative relationship between the strength
of religious conviction and IQ was observed. This relationship was absent or reversed in nonreligious
groups. A factor of religiousness based on ﬁve questions correlated at
0.38 with IQ after adjusting for
0.30 before). The relationship between IQ and religiousness was not strongly confounded
by plausible demographic covariates (β=−0.24 in ﬁnal model versus −0.30 without covariates).
intelligence; religion; religious belief; atheism; agnosticism; Christianity; Catholicism;
Hinduism; Judaism; Islam; OKCupid; cognitive ability
There has been long-standing interest in the relationship between religious beliefs and the behaviors
and traits of the people who hold them, including crime proneness and antisocial behavior [
], health [
], happiness, resilience [
], and cognitive ability or intelligence [
With respect to cognitive ability, over sixty studies spanning more than eight decades have consistently
found that the nonreligious and nonbelieving tended to be somewhat, perhaps 4–8 IQ points (on a
regular mean 100, SD 15 scale), more intelligent than the religious [
]. This result has also been
found when analyzing aggregate data at the country level of analysis (r=
0.60 between religiosity
and cognitive ability) [
] and across the states of the USA (r=
]. Similar patterns have been
seen with related constructs such as science knowledge [
]. While some studies used binary measures
of religiousness (e.g., “do you believe in God?” or “are you an atheist?”), some studies investigated the
relationship between the intensity or seriousness of religious belief and cognitive ability, generally
ﬁnding that more devout believers tended to display lower cognitive ability than more liberal believers,
excluding nonbelievers [
]. Those ﬁndings primarily concerned the belief in Christianity, because
they were mostly conducted on Western populations. For example, Nyborg [
] computed average
IQs by religious denomination for whites in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 dataset;
these results have been reproduced in Table 1.
Psych 2020,2, 25–33; doi:10.3390/psych2010003 www.mdpi.com/journal/psych
Table 1. Mean cognitive ability scores (IQ) for Christian denominations. From Nyborg .
Denomination IQ SD
Episcopal/Anglican 113.43 11.68
Jewish 112.43 13.14
Atheist 111.08 12.78
Agnostic 109.13 14.21
Methodist 108.33 13.41
Presbyterian 107.74 13.55
Lutheran 107.51 12.01
Protestant 107.42 13.38
Disciples of Christ 106.90 12.99
Roman Catholic 106.66 12.98
Other 106.43 13.65
Mormon 106.16 12.87
United Church of Christ 106.14 12.47
Bible Church 106.09 14.21
Islam 104.87 9.94
Personal Philosophy 103.98 14.54
Holiness 103.56 12.88
Baptist 102.13 13.78
Pentecostal 101.89 13.05
Total 106.09 13.57
Nyborg also ranked the denominations according to his own judgments of religious fundamentalism
and found that more liberal denominations displayed higher IQs. Nyborg’s rankings of religions by
their liberality were not objective, however, as at least one critic has pointed out [
]. The relationship
between religiosity and cognitive ability deserves further investigation with reported measures of religious
conviction included alongside the consideration of multiple religions instead of Christianity alone.
We aimed to do just that.
2. The Present Study
The present study examined the relationships between religious orientation, intensity of belief,
and cognitive ability in the large, diverse OKCupid dataset. We hypothesized that:
Atheists and agnostics would be more intelligent than believers, with the possible exception of
believers in Judaism (Jews).
2. Within religions, more devout individuals would be less intelligent than less devout ones.
For nonreligious groups (atheists/agnostics), we expected the more devout to be more intelligent.
A conﬁrmation of our ﬁrst hypothesis would replicate the ﬁndings from a large literature
(referenced above and below) that generally ﬁnds advantages in cognitive ability for both atheists
and agnostics (see above) and Jews [
]. Our second hypothesis relates to a common question
in the literature regarding how religious fundamentalism—which we indexed through stated belief
strength—is related to cognitive ability. Most studies of this question have found that both within
and between (some religions are rated as generally more fundamentalist than others) religions,
fundamentalism is related to lower cognitive ability. Our third hypothesis was not a replication.
We supposed that among non-believers, those with greater certainty in their disbelief would be more
intelligent. The idea behind this hypothesis was that certainty in disbelief would signal convictions
regarding the validity of beliefs that cannot be addressed—perhaps through some mediator like
cognitive style or reliance on intuition that we could not assess—and that beliefs that cannot be
addressed (i.e., the existence of a god or gods) are likely to be “pseudoprofound” [
]. Addressing this
hypothesis more fully would require data that are unavailable in our dataset, so any results regarding
this hypothesis can only be taken tentatively.
The analysis by Kirkegaard and Bjerrekær [
] plotted estimated cognitive ability by religious
orientation and the relationship between strength of belief and cognitive ability irrespective of religious
group. We extended their analysis by including estimates of the relationship between strength of belief
and cognitive ability within each group and assessing the impacts of various demographic variables
such as sexual orientation, age, race/ethnicity, and country of origin on “latent religiousness,” a factor
score based on answers to ﬁve questions discussed in greater depth below.
3. Materials and Methods
We used data from the OKCupid dataset, a large (n
70k) public dataset of dating service
]. Users of the service ﬁlled out many questions the site used in order to match them with
potential partners. There were thousands of questions concerning diverse topics, including many
devoted to religion. The data used in the present study were collected from 2014 to 2015 before being
released in anonymized form, and covered responses to roughly 2500 questions. The dataset primarily
contained subjects from English-speaking (Anglophone) countries (~85%), but also had a signiﬁcant
number from other Western European countries like Germany. The sample was almost entirely Western
(~95%). As such, our sample probably suﬀered from WEIRD sampling bias .
We searched the documentation of the dataset to ﬁnd variables related to religion or belief in god.
We found there were two variables relating to user religious self-representation in the proﬁle (religion
box) and ﬁve questions related to religious belief. We used a previously compiled collection of fourteen
questions used to measure cognitive ability [
]. While the full set of questions included in this cognitive
ability measure was small, it has been found to be related to variables with known relationships
to cognitive ability, including crime/antisocial behavior [
] and political interest/participation [
Paraphrased, these items included
1. Which is bigger, the earth or the sun?
2. STALE is to STEAL as 89475 is to what?
3. What is next in this series? 1, 4, 10, 19, 31, __
4. If you turn a left-handed glove inside out, it ﬁts on your left or right hand?
5. In the line ‘’Wherefore art thou Romeo?” what does ‘’wherefore” mean?
6. How many fortnights are in a year?
Half of all policemen are thieves and half of all policemen are murderers. Does it follow logically
that all policemen are criminals?
8. Which is longer, a mile or a kilometer?
9. When birds stand on power lines and don’t get hurt, it’s most likely because of what?
If some men are doctors and some doctors are tall, does it follow that some men are tall?
A little grade 10 science: what is the Ideal Gas Law?
If you ﬂipped three pennies, what would be the odds that they all came out the same?
Which is the day before the day after yesterday?
In the future it may be useful to assess the relationship these items have to gold standard cognitive
test results, but that option was unavailable to us. We scored the items using item response theory with
the R mirt package [
]. We included only subjects who had answered at least ﬁve cognitive ability
questions in order to avoid low quality data. Given the number and ease of the questions, the possible
selectiveness of the sample (i.e., dating site users can expect to be diﬀerent from the general population
in various ways), and the ability to cheat on these questions, it is likely there was range restriction.
The scores from this approach were very strongly correlated with those scored using all available data
(r=0.97). The scores were then standardized to have a mean of zero and an SD of one. We used this
scale instead of the more common 100/15, because this sample was likely above average in IQ to an
unknown degree and we did not want to mislead the reader by setting 100 equal to our sample mean.
We used other demographic indicators (sex, sexual orientation, age, location, and race), which were
also given by users in their proﬁles as covariates.
4.1. Religious Orientation and Certainty
During the process of building a proﬁle, each user was given the choice to select their religious
orientation from a dropdown menu. If they did, they were given a follow-up question asking them to
describe their level of seriousness about their chosen stance on a four-point Likert-like scale with the
options of “laughing about it”, “not too serious about it”, “somewhat serious about it”, or “very serious
about it”. Figure 1depicts mean cognitive ability scores by religious orientation, coded as the
combination of position and the seriousness/strength of the (non)belief/stance.
Psych 2019, 1, FOR PEER REVIEW 4
13. If you flipped three pennies, what would be the odds that they all came out the same?
14. Which is the day before the day after yesterday?
In the future it may be useful to assess the relationship these items have to gold standard
cognitive test results, but that option was unavailable to us. We scored the items using item response
theory with the R mirt package . We included only subjects who had answered at least five
cognitive ability questions in order to avoid low quality data. Given the number and ease of the
questions, the possible selectiveness of the sample (i.e., dating site users can expect to be different
from the general population in various ways), and the ability to cheat on these questions, it is likely
there was range restriction. The scores from this approach were very strongly correlated with those
scored using all available data (r = 0.97). The scores were then standardized to have a mean of zero
and an SD of one. We used this scale instead of the more common 100/15, because this sample was
likely above average in IQ to an unknown degree and we did not want to mislead the reader by
setting 100 equal to our sample mean. We used other demographic indicators (sex, sexual orientation,
age, location, and race), which were also given by users in their profiles as covariates.
4.1. Religious Orientation and Certainty
During the process of building a profile, each user was given the choice to select their religious
orientation from a dropdown menu. If they did, they were given a follow-up question asking them
to describe their level of seriousness about their chosen stance on a four-point Likert-like scale with
the options of “laughing about it”, “not too serious about it”, “somewhat serious about it”, or “very
serious about it.'' Figure 1 depicts mean cognitive ability scores by religious orientation, coded as the
combination of position and the seriousness/strength of the (non)belief/stance.
Figure 1. Mean cognitive ability by religious orientation and certainty. Error bars are 95% confidence
intervals. Shaded regions are the 95% confidence intervals for the individual-level regression results.
Groups without at least five cases are not shown.
In our data, the nonreligious had the highest mean cognitive ability but believers in Judaism
were also notably above the sample mean. A similar pattern held inside most of the religious
orientations: the least devout were the most intelligent. Some of the groups, particularly believers in
Hinduism and Islam, were small (n <200), and thus less likely to be representative, so their results
should be taken tentatively. For the nonreligious stances, there was a weak pattern in the opposite
Mean cognitive ability by religious orientation and certainty. Error bars are 95% conﬁdence
intervals. Shaded regions are the 95% conﬁdence intervals for the individual-level regression results.
Groups without at least ﬁve cases are not shown.
In our data, the nonreligious had the highest mean cognitive ability but believers in Judaism were
also notably above the sample mean. A similar pattern held inside most of the religious orientations:
the least devout were the most intelligent. Some of the groups, particularly believers in Hinduism
and Islam, were small (n<200), and thus less likely to be representative, so their results should be
taken tentatively. For the nonreligious stances, there was a weak pattern in the opposite direction for
agnostics such that those who expressed more certainty in their beliefs were more intelligent than
those who showed less certainty. This relationship was insigniﬁcant among atheists. It is possible
that the insigniﬁcant result for atheists can be explained by an alternative interpretation; namely,
that the correlation is there, but atheists are simply agnostics with greater certainty. The viability of
this alternative explanation is something we were unable to assess. To evaluate these patterns further,
we split the data by religious orientation and correlated cognitive ability with certainty. These results
are given in Table 2.
Religious orientation and polyserial correlation of cognitive ability with certainty. While
Catholics are Christian, “Christianity” here refers to all non-Catholic Christians.
Religious Orientation NMean Cognitive Ability Correlation
with Certainty SE p
Agnosticism 5994 0.315 0.030 0.017 0.042
Atheism 6991 0.441 0.011 0.016 0.240
Buddhism 621 −0.025 −0.148 0.048 0.001
Catholicism 2901 −0.305 −0.141 0.023
Christianity 5762 −0.308 −0.085 0.017
Hinduism 168 −0.320 −0.236 0.100 0.009
Islam 149 −0.541 −0.062 0.126 0.310
Judaism 906 0.247 −0.103 0.041 0.007
Other 4324 −0.117 −0.115 0.019
For the large religious groups (n>500), the results were all negative (p
0.01). For the nonreligious
groups, they were closer to zero and only barely p<0.05 in the case of agnostics. Our results were
only arguably consistent with Sickles et al.’s ([
], p.8) hypothesis that “controlling for levels of
fundamentalist belief [is] likely to make any diﬀerences between theists and non-theists disappear.”
As a robustness check, we carried out the analyses above in a subset of the data composed of only
white Americans. The ﬁndings for Catholics, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and others replicated in
this subsample (all p’s <0.05, and similar rs; values given in supplementary notebook). The lack of
ﬁndings for the remaining groups could not be interpreted substantively due to very small sample sizes
Hindus =9). All relationships investigated in the body of this paper were conducted for
every racial group separately in the supplement.
4.2. Demographic Covariates
To see if the relationship between religiousness and intelligence was due to demographic
confounders, we carried out a series of regressions incorporating demographic covariates. We utilized a
variety of demographic labels that had not been extensively covered in prior literature, including sexual
orientation and country of origin. Insofar as religions stigmatize nonheterosexual sexual orientations,
it might be expected that these individuals would be particularly irreligious. Alternatively, as a
response to religious or other stigmas, nonheterosexual individuals might gravitate towards spirituality
as a means of managing that even if they do not gravitate towards organized religion per se. There
are many possible hypotheses about and explanations for relationships between these variables and
religiosity, but this is not the space for their elaboration, only their investigation. For this purpose,
we created a religiousness factor based on ﬁve questions which were as follows:
How important is religion/god in your life? [“extremely”, “somewhat”, “not very”, “not at all”]
2. Is your duty to religion/god the most important thing in your life? [yes/no]
Would you consider dating someone whose religion or spirituality is the primary focus in their
4. Do you believe in god? [yes/no]
5. Are you an atheist? [yes/no]
While the latter two questions may seem redundant, analysis revealed they were not,
as approximately 24% of people who answered “no” to (4) answered “no” to (5), perhaps because
they identiﬁed as agnostic or they interpreted atheism as something other than a lack of belief in
god(s), or took it to imply other beliefs such as materialism. The items were subjected to a factor
analysis, scored, and standardized. Individuals who answered fewer than three religion questions
were excluded in order to avoid low-quality data. All items loaded as expected (i.e., positive loadings
for 1–4, and negative for 5). After this, we ﬁt regression models to predict each subject’s level of
religiousness (as the factor score). Results are given in Table 3.
Table 3. Regression models for predicting religiousness.
Model 1 2 3 4 5
Cognitive Ability −0.30 (0.0057) −0.30 (0.0058) −0.30 (0.0058) −0.27 (0.0060) −0.24 (0.0058)
Age (nonlinear) (nonlinear) (nonlinear) (nonlinear)
Female (ref) (ref) (ref)
Bisexual Female −0.29 (0.0269) −0.29 (0.0278) −0.26 (0.0269)
Female −0.15 (0.0516) −0.18 (0.0538) −0.18 (0.0520)
Homosexual Male −0.11 (0.0278) −0.15 (0.0280) −0.19 (0.0272)
Bisexual Male −0.31 (0.0407) −0.31 (0.0423) −0.29 (0.0409)
Heterosexual Male −0.22 (0.0139) −0.24 (0.0142) −0.24 (0.0138)
White (ref) (ref)
Mixed 0.29 (0.0195) 0.25 (0.0191)
Asian 0.27 (0.0293) 0.18 (0.0321)
Hispanic 0.40 (0.0297) 0.35 (0.0297)
Black 0.71 (0.0301) 0.64 (0.0294)
Other 0.08 (0.0360) 0.15 (0.0350)
Indian 0.30 (0.0603) 0.31 (0.0649)
Middle Eastern 0.32 (0.0948) 0.31 (0.0961)
Native American 0.31 (0.1288) 0.17 (0.1244)
Paciﬁc Islander 0.43 (0.1369) 0.46 (0.1324)
n37156 36436 36062 33158 33158
Adjusted R20.088 0.105 0.114 0.143 0.205
Standard errors are in parentheses. Nonlinear age was modeled using a restricted cubic spline.
Country/state eﬀects include dummies for US and Canadian states, and countries for everywhere
else. Coeﬃcients are standardized betas. “Ref” indicates that a category was a reference category
for following variants of the same category; for instance, the reference category for the eﬀect of
sexual orientation was heterosexual females, so heterosexual males appear less religious than they do.
The “(yes)” next to country/state indicates that those variables (of which there were many due to the
large number of regions included in the dataset; see the supplement) were included.
Across all models, religiousness was negatively associated with cognitive ability. The inclusion
of age (nonlinear), sex, sexual orientation, race, and residence (country/state) only modestly
aﬀected this ﬁnding (
changed from 0.30 to 0.24). Of note is that nonheterosexual sexual
orientations, especially bisexuality, were negatively associated with religiousness in both sexes
(except for homosexual males). All nonwhite races had higher levels of religiousness in this dataset.
These associations were not meaningfully aﬀected by the inclusion of location information. We also ran
a model without the country/state variable and with an interaction term for whether the subject resided
in an Anglophone country, but this term was insigniﬁcant (
0.019, p=0.35). An interaction term
for Western residence was also insigniﬁcant (
=0.017, p=0.56), indicating that the relationship was
unaﬀected by Western location. The full output from these models can be found in the supplementary
One particular limitation of the regression models above was that Jewish ethnicity was not
separated from non-Jewish (gentile) white because the proﬁles did not oﬀer an option to identify
one’s race/ethnicity as Jewish. However, another question was used to add clarity on this issue:
“Are you Jewish?” [yes/no]. While this question was itself ambiguous regarding Jewish religion or
Jewish ethnicity/race, it could be used to subset with since someone who is either should answer
in the aﬃrmative. The correlation between cognitive ability and religiousness among people who
answered “yes” was
0.24 (95% conﬁdence interval:
0.19), in line with the other results.
The smaller value for this subset might have been due to range restriction, since only 1490 people
answered this question.
Measurement error was likely to be a problem given our simple and limited measures. Estimated
empirical reliabilities [
] for the two scales were 0.63 (cognitive ability) and 0.80 (religiousness).
Correcting the observed correlation between cognitive ability and religiousness for measurement
error using the Spearman–Brown prophecy formula resulted in a corrected estimate of
]. This correction was necessary, because the factor score was derived from an exploratory and
not a conﬁrmatory factor analysis. Due to the exploratory nature of our factor analysis, we lacked more
intricate model ﬁt measures, and we cannot contest that our variables may have been more appropriately
modeled with multiple dimensions; the fact that none of the variables had high uniqueness in the single
factor model challenges this possibility, however. Alas, we had too few indicators to begin to address
this issue. Thankfully, it is unlikely that our measures suﬀer from issues related to sample size or model
complexity  because our sample size was large and a unidimensional model seemed appropriate.
Previous research has documented a negative relationship between cognitive ability and religious
belief [10,11,14]. Among the religious, the strength of religiosity has also been found to be negatively
associated with cognitive ability [
]. Our results replicated both of these ﬁndings. On the other
hand, the relationship between cognitive ability and the strength of religious convictions was absent
or reversed in nonreligious groups like atheists and agnostics. Generally speaking, these results
supported the general thrust of Nyborg’s and many others’ ﬁndings with regards to religiousness
and cognitive ability [
]. The strength of the relationship in our dataset was stronger than in the
meta-analysis we cited, which found an overall mean correlation of
], whereas ours was
0.30. The meta-analysis did not utilize adjustments for measurement error, so the values may not be
comparable. However, we suspected that the diﬀerence was mostly due to diﬀerences in the measures
used and the sampled population. Many of the studies in the meta-analysis relied on cognitive ability
measures such as SAT scores among college students, which are likelier to have had restricted range
and which frequently feature erroneous score reporting. Consistent with this, the mean correlation
found among adult noncollege samples was
0.23, which is somewhat closer to our own. A recent
large, multisample study that utilized measures of science knowledge and religiousness also found
0.30, though these were reduced to about
0.20 when the questions did not
include contested information (e.g., questions about global warming, and evolution) [
]. Item bias
still has the potential to explain part or all of these relationships, as it did recently for the results of an
actively open-minded thinking questionnaire [
]. It remains possible—though we were unable to test
this—that these results may be explained by other mediators such as death salience, moral concern,
conformism, attachment style, executive control, or analytical thinking style [29–32].
There were a number of limitations to this study. First, data came from an online dating site where
people answer questions in order to be better matched with potential partners. In this way, subjects
had an incentive to answer truthfully insofar as this would enable them to be matched with similar
people. However, the medium may also result in social desirability bias in responding; this response
bias is probably more likely to be reﬂected in the answers to questions about one’s religion than in
answers to the cognitive ability-related questions unless cheating on these questions reﬂects social
desirability bias. A previous study using this dataset for criminal and antisocial behavior did not
indicate that social desirability bias was strong enough to remove expected criterion relationships [
Second, as an extension of the ﬁrst limitation, the data were not particularly representative of the
national populations they were drawn from but instead reﬂected mainly younger persons looking
for love online. The regressions did not indicate notable biases from this sample selection. Third, the
measure of intelligence was of somewhat questionable validity since it has not been tested against
a well-validated test and is quite brief (14 items total and subjects did not usually respond to all 14).
Future studies should test this battery against well-known cognitive ability tests in order to ascertain
its psychometric qualities and potential demographic biases. Fourth, our sample is drawn mostly from
Anglophone (about 85%) and nearly entirely from Western (about 95%) countries, so it is unclear to
what degree these ﬁndings should generalize to populations not covered at all or which were only
inadequately covered by our study. We suggest that future studies examine the relationship between
cognitive ability and religiosity in countries with markedly diﬀerent cultures than Western ones such
as Brazil or China. Fifth, previous reviews on the topic highlighted the possible mediating role of
], but we were unable to test this mediation because our sample consisted mostly of
people who had not yet ﬁnished formal education and, as a result, the education data available to us
were not suitable for this analysis.
Full statistical output and R code is available at http://rpubs.com/EmilOWK/intell_rel
igion_OKCupid, data ﬁles are available following pointers in https://openpsych.net/paper/46.
Conceptualization, E.O.W.K.; methodology, E.O.W.K.; formal analysis, E.O.W.K.; data
curation, E.O.W.K.; writing—original draft preparation, E.O.W.K., J.L.; writing—review and editing, J.L.;
visualization, J.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors declare no conﬂicts of interest.
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