Consumer & Behavioral Science Consulting

America’s Mood Map: Geographical Psychology

America’s Mood Map: Geographical Psychology

“West Virginia is the most neurotic state, Utah is the most agreeable and the folks of Wisconsin are the country’s most extroverted, a new study says.”

Time recently published a an interactive guide to the “United States of Attitude” based on a recent publication by Dr. Peter Rentfrow, a professor in the department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.

In Time’s article, an interactive map of the United States of America is offered, where you can run your mouse over any state and get a breakdown of the average temperament of the people in that state. A quiz is also offered asking some basic questions about your temperament to find the ideal state for you, emotionally. This quiz is an abbreviated version of the OCEAN test. And looks kinda like this: 


1 = Strongly Disagree    7 = Strongly Agree
I see myself as …
Extraverted, enthusiastic.
Critical, quarrelsome.
Dependable, self-disciplined.
Anxious, easily upset.
Open to new experiences, complex.
Reserved, quiet.
Sympathetic, warm.
Disorganized, careless.
Calm, emotionally stable.
Conventional, uncreative.
It’s actually kinda fun… and funny.  I took the abbreviated version and found that “You belong in Florida!” Which is funny, because I was born and raised in Florida. I now live in the Northeast, with no intention of moving back south. But it made me curious if there was something to it.  Does this test somehow know that my temperament was shaped in Florida? AND a friend of mine also took the test.  She got “You belong in Colorado!”… and drum roll… she was born and raised in Colorado but now lives in NYC.  Hrm…
And then another friend’s results were off… not way off… not the correct state, but the correct region (Southeast).
So yes, it’s an abbreviated internet test posted in an online media article.  You can’t count it as real science.  But there is real science behind it.
And so I had to take a look at the original publication. Unfortunately, for the moment, I’m limited to the fact that the original cited publication in the Time article is a book. But the summary kept me intrigued:
The research described in this volume indicates that personality, political ideology, well-being, happiness, human virtues, and personal concerns are related to several important geographic social indicators.
Doing a quick pubmed search, I was interested to see that Rentfrow’s work consisted of not only looking at the different personalities of different states, but also the psychology of music, which I’ve always been fascinated in (see previous post on music: why we are happy being sad).
Anyway, the study was a very large study that took 13 years, 1.6 million survey participants, from 48 states + Washington, DC (they weren’t able to get enough participants from Hawaii or Alaska). And looking at the literature, it seems that there is in fact evidence of clustering of personalities regionally in the US.  In fact, Rentfrow’s research has shown a relation of  suicide rates to US state means on neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness… the “big 5”.
What’s the “Big 5”?
The Big 5 are the big five personality traits, or the five broad dimensions of personality based on a Five Factor Model and include:  opennessconscientiousnessextraversionagreeableness, and neuroticism. Also known as OCEAN (like the test). For each factor, like “openness”, a set of traits is described. So for “openness”, curiosity or creativity would be associated.
So, for example, one study was able to take a closer look at regional politics and personality.  By looking at Creativity Scores and voting patterns (who voted for Bush in 2002 as a state conservatism score) the researchers were able to give some support to the Rentfrow, et al. conclusion that state-aggregated openness reflects the unconventionality, tolerance, and creativity of a state.
It’s also suggested that these state personalities affect the health of the state. So, for example, researchers have looked at whether state obesity-prevalence rates can be predicted by state differences in residents’ levels on the Big Five personality variables.  It was found that state obesity prevalence was significantly correlated with the big 5 and further analysis showed that socioeconomic status could account for 54.0% of the criterion variance and that agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness together could account for another 17.1%.  So it’s correlated, but not all personality… money counts too.
Essentially, Rentfrow has found that psychological profiles cluster geographically and make unique patterns of associations with key geographical indicators. So when thinking about health outcomes or voting patterns… which came first? Does the regional personality influence the voting or the health?  Or do like people seem to congregate in environments friendly to their personalities.
“People who score high on these measures also have a high likelihood of migrating and settling into cosmopolitan areas,” says Rentfrow. Regions that score lower on openness and higher on the friendly and conventional scale, by contrast, have the lowest rates of emigration. “If you’re traditional and friendly and value family life, what’s the point of moving away?” Rentfrow asks.

The time article sums it up…
That simple idea might be the best message we can take from the study. We’re less a nation of warring tribes and angry camps than we are a loud, boisterous, messy mix of geography, social history and the unpredictable X factors of human personality, all trying to make a go of things under the same national flag. In other words, we’re exactly what the Founding Fathers intended us to be.

Melting pot or hardy stew, we do make assumptions based on where people say they are from.

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This entry was posted on October 23, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , .



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