Tag Archives: geography

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?

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Filed under Psychology

Place and Movement in cultural narratives


Am reading Ira Berlin’s, The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (Viking, 2010). I’ve only finished chapter one but am taken with his way of juxtaposing place (rootedness) and movement (migration) as key narratives in the life of African American history. It is a “contrapuntal narrative,” says Berlin. Had to look that word up since I wasn’t familiar with it. It is point and counter point. Or, better, two independent, seemingly opposing melodies played together to form one new melody. In the book he covers migration from Africa to America and three other major migrations in US history. But he also notes how “place” and rootedness follow the migrants. The Barber shop, the church and other familiar places can help root the migrant in a brand new locale.

It got me thinking again about how certain cultural narratives shape our view of self, other; of God and country. Some of these narratives seem in opposition to each other. While I was reading this chapter, I was spending some time in Lancaster County, or the Amish country. All around I could see evidence of cultural narratives of these descendants of German Anabaptists:  hard work; family first; shunning beauty or technology or anything that might make one put trust in self rather than God. I would imagine that place and farming rhythms shape many of the Amish sense of identity.

What themes do you notice in your life? How much does place (geography, community, contexts) play into your sense of self? How much does movement (independence, migration, freedom, transitions) shape you? I would think that these narratives really do have a significant effect on your philosophical and theological views. I suspect that if you have lived in the same place where generations of ancestors have lived, you may be more inclined to emphasize tradition and sameness. However, if you have had a pattern of change (whether forced upon you or not) and experienced a transitory life, you might find yourself more comfortable with a flexible theology.

What do you think?

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, Good Books, Race