Thanks to demography researchers and their love for maps, Americans can visualize where their home states fit in on a national scale of a variety of political, economic, social, and health characteristics. One of the latest maps forgoes these traditional methods of measuring the country and investigates something a little less observable: the personality traits of its citizens.
The map, published in a recent study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, chops the country into three distinct psychological regions based on a range of empirical data. The researchers didn’t predict what these clusters might look like (or how many of them there would be), but they expected neighboring states to be, on average, psychologically similar. Geographic proximity is often correlated with human behavior, such as personality traits and lifestyles.
The researchers used self-reported information from nearly 1.6 million people collected over 12 years for 48 states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) and the District of Columbia. They employed a commonly used personality scale to measure participants on their levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience, as well as separate measures to gauge opinion on politics, social issues, leisure interests and music preferences. When a given state is said to be high in neuroticism, for example, that is to say that the mean level of that trait derived from a sample of that state’s residents is high compared with the mean levels of the trait from samples of residents from other states. State-level factors like economic, social, health, and religious trends, along with census data, were also included in the analysis.
Here’s what they found:
The “Friendly and Conventional” region. The first region features the states of Middle America, including South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, known as the “red” states. People here ranked highly in levels of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, moderately low in neuroticism, and very low in openness. Residents of the region tend to be “sociable, considerate, dutiful, and traditional,” the researchers write. They are predominantly white with low levels of education, wealth, and social tolerance, and tend to be more religious and politically conservative than people outside of the region. They are also less healthy compared with other Americans.
The “Relaxed and Creative” region. The second cluster consists of West Coast states, Washington, Oregon, and California. Its personality profile is marked by low extraversion and agreeableness, very low neuroticism, and very high openness. Cultural diversity and alternative lifestyles are high, and residents are politically liberal and healthy, both mentally and physically. This region is richer, has more residents with college degrees, and is more innovative than other areas. These states cast fewer votes for conservative presidential candidates and are less religious compared with others. Here, the study’s authors write, people value tolerance, individualism, and happiness.
The “Temperamental and Uninhibited” region. The third and final grouping comprises of mid-Atlantic and Northeast states like Maine, Pennsylvania, and New York — the “blue” states. The region is low in extraversion, very low in agreeableness and conscientiousness, very high in neuroticism, and moderately high in openness. People here, the researchers say, are “reserved, aloof, impulsive, irritable, and inquisitive.” Residents are politically liberal and less religious, and are disproportionately college-educated individuals, older adults, and women. A good chunk of the “passionate” and “competitive” residents are leaving the area, according to census data, and heading south or southwest.
So why do researchers care about what people are like across America? Because personality traits on their own, rather than the usually cited factors like religion, racial diversity, education, or wealth, could help explain the country’s differing political views. “In left-leaning regions, it appears that residents are generally open, reserved, and socially distant, whereas in right-leaning regions, residents appear to be friendly, warm, dutiful, and traditional,” the researchers write. The separation of blue states into two distinct psychological regions suggests that “there are distinct psychological profiles differentiating East Coast from West Coast liberals.”
Regional personality traits could also tell researchers a lot about economic prosperity and health. States high in openness and low in neuroticism show greater economic success and innovation. Nine of the 11 states that comprise a southeastern region dubbed the Stroke Belt for its unusually high incidence of strokes are located in the “friendly and conventional” cluster, which rates low in well-being and healthy behavior. People living in the “relaxed and creative” region, on the other hand, are in good health.
But as is the case with most personality research, it is tough to state with absolute certainty which came first — people open to experience or a good economy, conventional attitudes or poor health — and what’s having an effect on what.
- 1 One Nation, Divisible By Demography and Ideology
- 2 Portman Campaign to Reach Out to Democrats at Clinton Rallies
- 3 The 1 Easy Way Donald Trump Could Have Been Even Richer: Doing Nothing
- 4 A Tale of Two Conventions for Charlie Crist
- 5 Accepting Nod, Hillary Clinton Pairs Unifying Tone With Liberal Policies
What We're Following See More »
Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.
The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."
An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."
The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."