Many Midwest and Southern states are "Friendly & Conventional," according to a new personality analysis that marks hidden regions in the U.S.

The "Relaxed & Creative" is made up of mostly of Western states.

While the "Temperamental & Uninhibited" people reside mostly in the Northeast plus, surprisingly, Texas.

2013-10-18

There Are Three Americas Hiding Inside Our Country--Which Do You Live In?

America is divided by politics, economics, and geography. But it turns out that we also tend to cluster around people who act the same as us.

There are many ways of dividing up America: Red state, Blue state, Rust Belt, Bible Belt, Sun Belt, Stroke Belt...the list could go on. We're defined by our regional economies, voting patterns, stereotypes, geographies, and a lot else besides.

These maps do something different: They look at America in psychological terms. They assess people across five key personality traits--openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism--and show us where the distribution falls.

Led by Jason Rentfrow, at the University of Cambridge, the analysis is based on a total of 1.5 million online surveys conducted in five batches. The researchers then cluster traits together, with the darker colored areas indicating higher correlation. The work is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The results show three distinct regions: "Friendly & Conventional" (blue), which extends across the Midwest into the South; "Relaxed & Creative" (green), made up mostly of Western states; and "Temperamental & Uninhibited" (orange), which takes in the Northeast, plus Texas.

Here is how the paper describes the blue zone:

The region is defined by moderately high levels of Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, moderately low Neuroticism, and very low Openness. This configuration of traits portrays the sort of person who is sociable, considerate, dutiful, and traditional...

And the green region:

The psychological profile of this region is marked by low Extraversion and Agreeableness, very low Neuroticism, and very high Openness... In general, the qualities of this region depict a place where open-mindedness, tolerance, individualism, and happiness are valued.

And orange:

The psychological profile of the region is defined by low Extraversion, very low Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, very high Neuroticism, and moderately high Openness. This particular configuration of traits depicts the type of person who is reserved, aloof, impulsive, irritable, and inquisitive.

Obviously not everyone in each region fits the profile. We're talking statistical averages here. Still, the maps offer another lens through which to look at the big divisions in the U.S., and place several states outside the norm. Texas, for example, is less in the South and more in the East, which may be news to some.

"This analysis challenges the standard methods of dividing up the country," says Rentfrow, in a press release. "At the same time, it reinforces some of the traditional beliefs that some areas of the country are friendlier than others, while some are more creative."

[Image via Shutterstock]

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97 Comments

  • D Foltz

    What I would like to know is the ratio of the between-cluster and between-individual personality variation.

    That is, is this an effect which is only interesting in aggregate (like voting behavior, where a 2% difference in the average determines the whole outcome) or is it powerful enough that you are substantially more likely (say, 50%) to find people of a certain type in each region?

    I tried to read the study, but there's about 5 layers of math, and I didn't understand it all.

  • Bob Zimmerman

    Oh look...they did a "study" and since it's "published"...their interpretations must be true!
    And don't forget: the sun rises in the north and sets in the south (just look at the sun on the horizon in December) and note that reality TV shows are real.

  • anonymous2498

    Personality assessment catgories aren't quite what some of you are assuming. Being an extrovert offers certain characteristics, positive and negative--associated with being outgoing and social, generally interpeted as "friendly", but extroverts can also be jerks and rude--not what most people commonly consider "friendly". In the Social Sciences these descriptive terms can have somewhat different meanings than common usage. Personality assessment scales have been around a long time and have been vetted as being reliable and valid even though the most common scales are based on self-reporting. It doesn't matter if this is how the people "see themselves", the assessment tool works. Statistical analysis is used to determine the aggregates of selected catgeories (personality traits as based on the personality scale) within specified boundaries, in this case "states". Yes there will be exceptions within this categories, yes these characteristics are being generalized. Statistical analysis isn't saying there are no exceptions, it is analyzing the collected data and "lumping" it together in a usable form. One of the most common ways we do this and the easiest to understand would be "averages". We can look at the highest and the lowest and figure our what the "average" is (In common usage), in order to simplify the information--whether it's for comparison or whatever. The kind of statistical analysis used in these kind of study is far more complicated. But get real people, It's half a page of analysis! You can hardly judge the validiity of their conclusions based on what you see here! If you want more detail dig up the original study. You can hardly criticize anything based on what is given here--this is a sound bite. Though it doesn't mean it's not true. Most of the respondents don't seem to know much about social science or how social science analysis works.

  • MissNormaDesmond

    I am a social scientist, and I'm all too aware of the massive circle jerk that is a regrettably large portion of social science research. If you think this study actually told anyone anything true or useful about U.S. society, we disagree.

  • Cee Bee

    I tend to agree with you but I think what anonymous2498 is saying is that you can't really judge the study unless you actually read the original paper and examine the methodology. The clusters are likely valid, but only within (as you suggest) methodologically opportunistic parameters and only in a general way.

    The clusters map roughly on to state settlement and economic history patterns (agricultural, industrialization and immigration history). Percent rural and percent actively religious (probably percent Protestant) as well as demographic factors like level of racial diversity, average educational attainment, and maybe average age at first marriage/childbirth are also suspicious contemporary correlates. I'm also a social scientist (PhD in sociology) and I find it somewhat silly that one would talk about the "personalities" of states but not their underlying structural and historical differences. But maybe these factors are discussed in the actual paper.

  • gilchristh

    I wish each comment was tagged with location so we could vet the theory with some practical anecdotes.

  • cherokee charlie

    Who does your keys because they flat out suck? Dont just put numbers up. Tell them the more blue, the more texas shit orange, or the more breaking bad green.. just say the more the color the more the trait. Really, how much ink would it cost you? Geez. Love Mother Jones but your graphing needs work and is often too small. Peace.

  • Derrick

    Interesting article. I would argue that the cluster 3 areas go a bit further west than they suggest, and include the Chicago and Milwaukee metro areas which from what I've observed definitely have some cluster 3 traits compared to say Minneapolis or Sioux Falls.

  • jcp111

    This is very similar to a pattern described by Kirkpatrick Sale in an essay he wrote many years ago, proposing a break-up of the U.S. into different regions. The only difference is that this scheme leaves out about half the country. Lumping Texas in with New England seems a stretch, to say the very least. The only time they were lumped together was with the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960--and that didn't end well.

  • Philip Coates

    There's a fourth region or personality grouping:

    Writers Under Deadline Pressure who need to come up with some Cockamamie Theory.

  • Marty Keech

    Tell that to David Renfrow, the University Senior Lecturer and Director of Studies in PPS at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. He performed the analysis. I think he may know a bit more than you do.