If you've been to more than one U.S. state, you've probably uncovered a deeply-rooted belief held by most Americans: there are vast cultural differences that set the nation's regions apart. No doubt you've heard that Southerners are polite, Midwesterners are kind, West Coasters are free-spirited and go-with-the-flow, and New Englanders are driven and sometimes blunt. But a recent study by a team of University of Cambridge psychologists called "Divided We Stand" may actually provide some evidence for these stereotypes.
Jason Rentfrow, the project's leader, and his researchers found that there are three distinct state personalities: "relaxed and creative," "friendly and conventional," and "temperamental and uninhibited." And — no shocker here — it's pretty easy to align these categories with specific geographic areas. The West Coast is entirely relaxed and creative, the Midwest and the South are almost all friendly and conventional, and the Northeast is temperamental and uninhibited. There's also significant overlap between the categories. For example, states like Wyoming and Colorado demonstrate a blend of West Coast and Midwest attitudes, while Indiana and Ohio are amalgamations of Midwestern and Northeastern personalities, as illustrated below in this map from New York magazine's Science Of Us blog.
"From the Deep South and the Bible Belt, to the Rustbelt and the Stroke Belt, America has long been divided into a variety of distinct regions." - Renfrow et al., "Divided We Stand"
In terms of the nitty-gritty of the study, the psychologists analyzed each state over a period of thirteen years. They used five personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — and measured each state's results against national averages of 50. At 65, California has a very high openness score, while North Dakota's score of 21.8 is particularly low. South Carolina has a conscientiousness score of 69.6, but Maine's is only 24. Utah is the most agreeable location, and Washington, D.C. is (perhaps unsurprisingly) the least. The data were collected from over 1.6 million people, so even if you think that the results only reflect stereotypes, the sample size is plenty large.
When we first discussed this research last October, plenty of people jumped on the bandwagon, including TIME. However, as new personality studies are constantly being brought up that discuss supposedly crucial habits or traits like your email-writing style and whether you prefer cats or dogs, you've got to wonder how many of these can actually hit that close to the mark. After all, I wouldn't sort myself into any of the three categories that Rentfrow's study created.
According to TIME's personality test, I belong in Rhode Island, which seems pretty random — I don't feel that similar or dissimilar to the Rhode Islanders I know.
However, I suppose this kind of data can be useful for marketing or political purposes. If you're a business or a political figure, it's worth knowing the broad differences between the facets of American culture — even if those ideas don't always hold water.
Image: Science of Us/NY Mag
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