Geographical Psyche? Does your location shape you?


Is “Mid-west Nice” an empty stereotype? What about “southern hospitality? Are people in the Northeast more neurotic than those in the West?

The most recently published American Psychologist (v. 65:6) has a couple of articles on the topic of geography and psychology that pique my interest and may give us some clues to the relationship between location and personality.

Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson (U Mich) look at regional variation in character strengths of cities say the following,

“The place where we grew up or currently reside is more than physical space. It defines who we are, how we think about ourselves and others, and the way we live.” (p. 535)

The authors used an Internet-based “self-report of character strengths” measuring 24 different strengths. These strengths are loosely lumped into two general categories, head strengths and heart strengths. By this they mean those that are more individualistic and intellectual vs. those that are more emotional and interpersonal.

Interestingly, the cities with the highest “head” strengths were LA, San Francisco, and Oakland and those with the lowest “head” orientation were Arlington, TX, OK City, and Omaha, NB [NOTE: this is a very large convenience sample, not a representative sample]. Those with the highest “heart” orientation were El Paso, TX, Mesa, AZ, and Miami. Lowest “heart” cities were Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston.

Then the authors correlated head and heart cities with 2008 presidential voting data. Head cities correlated with voting for Obama (.44) while heart cities correlated with votes for McCain (.46). These correlations are not huge but significant.

So, it may be that where you live influences the development of head or heart. Or maybe we tend to migrate to like-minded/hearted people. Also, the media in these cities have ways of influencing what we know and feel. Having lived near Philadelphia and Chicago, I can attest to the influence of the nightly news. Though Chicago is a larger city, the evening news was nowhere the crime/body count I watch in Philadelphia.

The second article explores, “Statewide Differences in Personality” (Peter Rentfrow, author). Rentfrow wants to give evidence that our stereotypes (e.g., “New Yorkers are outspoken, neurotic, and always in a hurry”) have a basis in reality. 3 different studies (1973, 2002, and 2008) reveal “surprisingly consistent geographical patterns for Neuroticism and Openness”

Neuroticism tends to be high in the Northeast and Southeast and low in the Midwest and West….Openness tends to be high in the New England, Middle Atlantic, and Pacific regions and comparatively lower in the Great Plains, Midwest, and Southeastern States.” (p. 549) [Openness, by the way, does not mean “nice” but openness to new ideas, change, etc.]

Rentfrow wonders what might account for these differences. Do people migrate to areas where others also have their same traits? Is it more the result of social influence? Or, is it the result of ecological influences (e.g., environmental or infectious disease load influencing disposition)?

He concludes with considerations of the impact of personality differences in regions. It matters because of consequences to social connectedness, political power, and overall health.

So, what do you think? How much does the region you live (or were raised in) influence your demeanor, personality, etc?

3 Comments

Filed under Psychology

3 responses to “Geographical Psyche? Does your location shape you?

  1. Scott Knapp

    I would say we are a bit more laid back in the Midwest, on a number of fronts.

  2. Lou

    It is impossible to evaluate any of this without looking at the questions asked on the questionnaire or how each category was defined. File this one in the cute with a feeble smile file.

  3. Robert Whitby

    I looked up “psychology and geography and came across this site. I’ve noticed this difference, not only in different States, but also in different areas of the same state. I live on Marylands eastern shore and work mainly in the outskirts of Baltimore doing home remodels and renovations. Even over there I can see a big difference in people from Timonium, Ellicott City, Baltimore and Nova. It makes me wonder if we really are just cause and effect or if we’re people of morals and principals or whatever we’d like to believe about ourselves. People like Lou above my comment are typical around Ellicott City (sarcastic rote knowers, with no critical thinking abilities to challenge anything they’ve been indoctrinated with in college or subjegated with by their parents).

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