Do cities have personality traits?

lifestyle design — By on May 15, 2008 at 3:41 pm

We often talk about the cultures of different regions of the world. We talk less often about the cultures of different regions of one country, though they certainly exist. But what about the psychological characteristics of geographical regions? Is it actually possible that people in New England, for example, have not only different traditions and foods than do people from the Sun Belt, but also a different psychological outlook on life?

Richard Florida thinks so. In a fascinating recent article for the Boston Globe, Florida talked about how certain personality traits actually cluster in particular cities or regions. An excerpt:

Psychologists have shown that human personalities can be classified along five key dimensions: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience. And each of these dimensions has been found to affect key life outcomes from life expectancy and divorce to political ideology, job choices and performance, and innovation and creativity.

What’s more, it turns out these personality types are not spread evenly across the country. They cluster. And how they cluster tells us much: What city someone might want to move to, the broader character of regions, and even the creative and economic futures of broad swaths of the nation…

Interestingly, America’s psychogeography lines up reasonably well with its economic geography. Greater Chicago is a center for extroverts and also a leading center for sales professionals. The Midwest, long a center for the manufacturing industry, has a prevalence of conscientious types who work well in a structured, rule-driven environment. The South, and particularly the I-75 corridor, where so much Japanese and German car manufacturing is located, is dominated by agreeable and conscientious types who are both dutiful and work well in teams.

The Northeast corridor, including Greater Boston, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin, are home to concentrations of open-to-experience types who are drawn to creative endeavor, innovation, and entrepreneurial start-up companies. While it is hard to identify which came first – was it an initial concentration of personality types that drew industry, or the industry which attracted the personalities? – the overlay is clear…

While opposites sometimes really do attract, and it is possible to make unusual matches work, our research indicates that people are typically happier in places with higher concentrations of personality types like their own.

Check out the entire story. There is a lot of food for thought in there.

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