Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The New and Improved Geography of Personality - Now Includes Canada!

A little while ago, I looked at a study on the geography of personality by Peter J. Rentfrow, Samuel D. Gosling and Jeff Potter. That work looked at the geographic distribution among the 50 states of the prevalence of the "big five" personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousnness, and openness. Well, Richard Florida has maps that present similar data; except that these ignore state boundaries, which gives a clearer and more fine-grained sense of the actual distribution of those traits; and better yet, these maps include Canada. So here are the maps of the geography of personality for the US and Canada. (Note: Florida cites, as the source for these maps, Jason Rentfrow and Kevin Stolarick, and the data represented in these maps seem to show some slightly different patterns than the other paper, which I'll refer to as the Rentfrow et al. paper, even though both of these, technically, are Rentfrow et al. papers (do you think Peter and Jason are related?).)



According to Rentfrow, et al., extroversion is generally associated with "sociability, energy, and health," and extroverted people tend to socialize more, but also tend to be more indiscriminate in their associations; they don't necessarily have more close friends. The big hubs for extroversion seem to be centered around Chicago, Atlanta, and Florida, with Bos-Ny-Wash and California being the least extroverted regions. Canada is more uniform, though Ontarians seem to be a bit more extroverted than Albertans.



Agreeableness "reflects warmth, compassion, cooperativeness, and friendliness." Rentfrow et al. found that high levels of agreeableness in states correlated with social involvement and religiosity. It was also positively correlated with spending time with friends and having guests over, but negatively with going to bars and joining clubs. Again, Atlanta seems to be a major hub of agreeableness, and it is generally prevalent throughout the South; and again Bos-Ny-Wash and Southern California score low. Greater Toronto and Alberta score slightly lower as well, and Vancouver scores slightly higher.



Neuroticism is characterized by "anxiety, stress, impulsivity, and emotional instability and is related to antisocial behavior, poor coping, and poor health." Unsurprisingly, the Rentfrow et al. study found that highly neurotic states had lower rates of exercise, higher rates of disease, and a shorter life expectancy. In these states, people are less likely to join clubs and spend time with friends. Again, the Northeast represents one of the ends of the spectrum for the distribution of this trait; but in this case it's focused very particularly around the New York City area. There's a secondary neurotic hub around Ohio; the South and West are generally un-neurotic, as is Canada - esepecially Vancouver.



Conscientiousness at the individual level "reflects dutifulness, responsibility, and self-discipline [and] it is positively associated with religiosity" and health-promoting behavior. The South has high levels of conscientiousness; the Northeast, not so much. Southern Ontario and the big cities of California also seem to have lower levels of conscientiousness.



Openness "reflects curiosity, intellect, and creativity at the individual level." Rentfrow et al. found that highly open states had high levels of liberal values, and a disproportionate number of people in the "artistic and investigative professions". People in these areas are more tolerant of homosexuality, more likely to support legalization of marijuana, and more likely to be pro-choice. However, more open states tend to have lower rates of social involvement. and are considerably less religious. "Open" people are concentrated around New York City and the cities of the West Coast from Vancouver to San Diego. The South, Midwest, and southern Ontario are less open.

Taking these maps as a whole, what's most remarkable to me is the extent to which the story of the geography of personality in North America is a story about the difference between New York City and Atlanta. Just look at those maps: in the case of every one of the big five personality traits, both of those cities represent one end of the spectrum of the distribution of that trait; and in every case, they represent opposite ends of that spectrum. In other words, both areas are outliers for every trait, and both areas are outliers in opposite directions for every trait. Other parts of North America, like Canada and the interior West, are either generally near the middle of the spectrum for most traits; or, like the Midwest, they share patterns with the Atlanta-centered South or the NYC-centered Northeast depending on the trait. But in every single case, Atlanta and New York City are diametrically opposed to each other. It's fascinating.

70 comments:

K H D and sometimes T said...

Historically, how was atlanta populated and grown vs NYC? Like children, there's nature and nurture - so how do their environments and their development (citizenry, economics, prominence, role ,etc) compare.

It seems so crazy that the north and south pole are neighbors

Chachy said...

In terms of anything pertinent, I'm not real sure. The most obvious differences that come to mind are:

1) NYC is coastal and always been involved in international trade, whereas Atlanta is landlocked with less of an international influence; and

2) NYC has long been multiethnic, with populations coming from all over Europe, including Orthodox and Catholic Christian countries; whereas Atlanta has long been bi-racial with the main influences being Anglo/Scoth-Irish protestants and African Americans, who themselves were mostly Protestant.

I suppose you could find a way to fit those facts to explain the personality discrepancies; but frankly you could probably fit those facts to explain the inverse, too, if the inverse personality traits obtaines in those places. So I don't know if those facts are really relevant or not.

Anonymous said...

I find your final conclusion hilarious, since I was born and raised in Manhattan while my father is from Georgia. We passed through Atlanta a couple of years ago on our way to visit family and I decided it was my least favorite city in the U.S., mostly because of its horrible planning (e.g., solitary office towers springing up in the middle of low-rise residential neighborhoods) and the fact that every other street is named Peachtree. But perhaps it was just an instinctive emotional reaction!

Chachy said...

Anon - funny you should mention that. Once, while living in New York, I got kicked in the face for disparaging Atlanta. True story.

Anonymous said...

Atlanta's interesting. Most of the folks I know who live there really don't like it. They're only there for the job.

Atlanta and New York are alike in that they started as transportation hubs. Businesses grew in both places because of the transportation. And the jobs attracted & held workers. Atlanta came to prominence after the Civil War, while New York has been a leading city for nearly 400 years.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, the Southeast is just *chock* full of folks who are busy performing conscientiously healthy behaviors. Hysterical - thanks for the laugh!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Perhaps you just know a lot of unhappy people that would probably be unhappy in whatever city they lived in.
When I moved to Atlanta, I hated it, or at least I thought I hated it. In retrospect, I was unhappy and in a bad relationship, away from home, and living in the suburbs. It was me, not Atlanta. Eleven years ago, I moved downtown, bought a house, and got a life and I love the city. I have several very close friends in New York and visit as much as I can. I Love the city, it's an incredible place.
On another note, I question this 'study'. Doesn't seem very plausible.

Ron said...

Southern Ontario couldn't be more "open" (large gay population, Canadian arts centre, relaxed drug laws, culture of inclusiveness) and Vancouver couldn't be more neurotic, (probably due in part to the weather). This geography of personality is all over the map, I'm afraid...

Anonymous said...

Well mostly the people that "hate" Atlanta, aren't here by choice. That has a huge impact on what a person thinks about a place. I live just 15min north of the city, and I assure you that it is a much more beautiful, diverse and absolutley facinating city if you actually stay here for a day or two and explore, versus just driving through.


As for the "...horrible planning (e.g., solitary office towers springing up in the middle of low-rise residential neighborhoods)..." What you were seeing was the office buildings from Northside Drive. A main throughfare that runs paralell to the interstate. BUT they are seperated by the Chattahooche River, hense they appear to rise from the woods. And just recently we've been under going a huge re-do of our interstates, and every sign is new and much easier to navigate.


OH and as for every road being named Peachtree....Yeah you do have a point there. lol. But unfortunantly theres not much we can do about that.

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