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May 04, 2008

« Bad Air Days | Main | OK, Mission Control ... »

My column in today's Boston Globe. All five maps are are here (scroll down to personality maps).

Source: Jason Rentfrow, Cambridge University; Kevin Stolarick, University of Toronto, Original maps by Ryan Morris.

We are all familiar with the rough geography of the United States - the slash of the Rocky Mountains between two great coastlines, the bulge of Maine, the Florida peninsula, the Great Lakes, set in the heartland.

But what about the country's psychogeography? You know, the great river of extroversion that flows roughly southeast from greater Chicago to southern Florida? Or the vast lakes of agreeableness and conscientiousness that pool together in the Sun Belt, especially around Atlanta? Or the jagged peaks of neuroticism in Boston and New York? It's time to learn.

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.

Drawing on a database of hundreds of thousands of individual personality surveys compiled by psychologists Jason Rentfrow, Sam Gosling, and Jeff Porter, my team and I were able to map the distribution of personality types across the United States. The result is a fascinating new way of looking at the country's terrain.

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.

Understanding regional personality types can add to our understanding of what makes regional development tick. Economists argue that technology (in the form of great universities and high-tech company clusters) and human capital (talented people) drive economic growth. But psychologists would add that in addition to skills, talent, motivation, and resources, there are personality traits and psychological capital that predispose people toward certain talents and proclivities. For example, highly conscientious people have a disposition to be detail oriented, plan ahead, and stay organized. Openness to experience shapes people's ability to be creative, acquire new skills quickly, undertake new discoveries and innovations, and start new companies.

So regions like Silicon Valley or the high-tech Route 128 corridor around Boston succeed not just because they have great universities and highly educated people (some of the greatest high-tech entrepreneurs of our time are college dropouts), but also because they are magnets for highly ambitious, highly curious, and highly open personalities.

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.

But what accounts for such psychogeographical clustering? One potential explanation is that people migrate to places where their psychological needs are easily met: Open people choose to live in places with hustle and bustle to satisfy that craving for new experiences, while conscientious people settle in places where the atmosphere is ordered to meet their need for predictability.

Or perhaps, personality is influenced by our surroundings. More emotionally stable people who live in places where neurotic types form the majority may become irritable and stressed because the people around them are getting to them.

Our research suggests another possibility as well: the link between personality and the willingness to move. Conscientious and agreeable types in particular are less likely to move. Once they find a place, they tend to spread out gradually over time. Extroverts, on the other hand, are much more likely to move over greater distances. Open-to-experience types are drawn to thrills and risk, and moving, after all, is one of life's biggest new experiences.

This fuels a process of selective migration whereby agreeable and conscientious regions are drained of the most driven, most creative, and most mobile - only reinforcing their psychogeographic profiles, while magnifying the innovative edge in places where open-to-experience types concentrate.

Our evolving psychogeography means that our nation, its people, and its regions continue to sort themselves not just by education and skill, but by personality as well.

Richard Florida is the author of "Who's Your City?" and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.


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It is highly interesting to view it from this perspective. The question is if these types of personalies are drawn to the place or the place makes the personalities evolve into such? Demographic analysis will be more helpful in terms of ego identity.

Michael R. Bernstein

Richard, the 'open to new experiences' map in the PDF seems wrong (and also inconsistent with previous maps). Is this an inverse map (ie. 'closed to experiences')?

Also, the way you're using color needs to be revised. As it is you're giving false cues about the relative scaling of the concentrations by using base colors with varying luminescence, or brightness (not to mention being very unfriendly to folks with color-blindnesses). If your intent is to convey information, use less color variation: combine each trait and it's inverse in one map with a gradation between opposite colors (shading to white for average areas), and use the *same* color scale between all five maps.

For more detailed information on the use of color to assist data analysis, check out this paper:


Michael - Thanks. Those draft the maps the paper did. I can't seem to get the link/ access to the finals. I changed the link to our own original maps.


These maps are fascinating, but with respect to Atlanta and the South, I don't know how to square them with the national map of social capital from Robert Putnam's excellent book Bowling Alone. Figure 80 in that book shows the core high social capital regions to be New England and most everything north and west of Missouri. The deep South, including Georgia, has the lowest social capital. But the personality maps show Atlanta, and most of the rest of Georgia, as being more or less an epicenter of people who are Conscientious, Agreeable, and Extroverted -- all traits that one would think would align with good social networks and high social capital. Any thoughts as to how to reconcile these two studies with respect to Atlanta, and the South generally?

Ralph Brown

The personality maps are quite fascinating. I've never realized that so many people live offshore in the Atlantic and on the waters of the Great Lakes. In particular if one examines the Neurotic People map, there are a large number who apparently make their homes as much as 100 miles offshore to the east of New Jersey and south of Long Island.

How do they live out there? I don't think there is cell phone service or cable available, plus the weather is pretty nasty in the winter. Do their psychologists visit them by boat?

It's not possible is it that you made up the data?

Whitney Gunderson

Yes! BC, you bring up a good point. Bowling Alone has done an excellent job of raising awareness of the concept of social capital - which is basically the way people interact in a place - but Putnam does not reconcile U.S. GDP growth since 1950 and the supposed simultaneous decline of social capital. Some say the U.S. GDP has increased as much as 300% since 1950, see link below.


In other words, if social capital has declined as much as Putnam argues it has, why has actual economic output increased so much during the same time period?

Traditional views of social capital have tied it to economic value and output - the people you interact with have influence on how prosperous you are. Putnam's view of social capital is radical. Putnam implies that social capital is not tied to economic value or output. In Bowling Alone, one is lead to believe that social capital has undergone a tremedous decline, while overall wealth rose tremendously at the same time. Putnam addresses the change that traditional communities have experienced since 1950, but does not address the increase in wealth this has resulted in. More traditional views of social capital would say that it has increased since 1950, but that is not as interesting as saying that it has declined and that people are now bowling alone.

There was an excellent review of Bowling Alone in The New Republic a while back that I borrowed heavily from for this post. I can't remember the date or the author, does anyone else have information on this?

Michael Wells

Rise has a discussion of different types of social capital between the creative class where people pick and choose activities, and older models where they join clubs, etc. There's a good article in today's Oregonian on this although it doesn't particularly mention creative class, but focuses on generational differences.

Eric O

In the I-85 --not I-75 ') btw-- Corridor of Agreeableness here in Charlotte there is a distinct Presbyterian "rule by committee" approach to doing things (as a result of which, both laity and leadership can't get anything creative done).

Further down the corridor in Greenville, S.C., they sure are trying hard to attract "high-impact" entrepreneurs. This explains that they are perhaps trying hard to be what they aren't...and can't be. Yet they have more engineers per capita than anywhere else, and the highest concentration of foreign-based manufacturers...so they are using their qualities of agreeableness to their fullest extent! Unfortunately, it just hasn't paid off that well. Greenville continues to slide in terms of annual per capita income relative to the rest of the country. This tells me that instead of trying to lure the big cats, maybe their approach needs to be more synergistic, perculating ventures by fostering cooperative partnerships between foreign firms and their diverse manufacturing and knowledge-based sectors.

hayden fisher

Very fascinating. Looking at this one step further out, it also demonstrates the diversity of the people in America. I've often argued that America rose so fast because of the types of people who came here. It must have taken a lot to make that leap into the new world, leaving behind families and sometimes fortunes to journey out into the new world. And, then later, to push West towards SF to chase the gold rush and realize manifest destiny. The history of middle America and the South is probably less dynamic. In the South, the plantation-style of living did not attract the new and the hungry, they immigrated into New York and the Northeast before pushing west into the industrial meccas in what has become Chi-Ohio-Pitt; and later Detroit. In Middle America, people kind of settled and lived less risky but more self-dependently too, a mindset very different than what one would have encountered in the South. Agreeability would have been highly valued in the South since they all had the same interests (the sale of cotton and agricultural), competing instead against the northeast and their manufacturing interests, which would explain also why they agreed with one another but despised those from other regions.

In any event, these are some of the most remarkable maps I've seen and a very creative approach to understanding the proclivities that we associate intuitively with various regions, even when backed-up only by anecdotal evidence. Thanks!

Michael Wells

I wonder how these inter-relate to The Big Sort in Bill Bishop's book of the same name. He talks about people's tendency to move to communities and neighborhoods of people like themselves, which he tracks on a County level. The result in politics is that in very close elections like 2000 and 2004, a large number counties went overwhelmingly for one candidate -- unlike the close election of 1976, where the votes were evenly split in most places. And this was true in most elections before '76.

The social consequences, along with blogs and increasingly targeted media, is that most people interact with fewer people who think differently than themselves, and hear fewer ideas from opposing viewpoints. Bishop says that even as America becomes more diverse on a national scale, it is becoming more homogenous on a neighborhood and community scale. These maps show that it's true of not just politics and lifestyles, but actual psychological and emotional types.

Michael R. Bernstein

Richard, I'd still like to see revised maps along the lines I suggested. Having only the concentrations on one end of each personality dimension depicted is insufficient.

Where are the Disagreeable people concentrated? the Introverts? The Emotionally Stable (inverse of Neurotics)?, The Conservatives? The Unconscientious?

Also, as noted in the comment by Ralph Brown, you're going a bit overboard with whatever gaussian blurring you're doing, which is smoothing the data a bit too much and making it 'bleed' out into the ocean and across borders.

Can you make the raw data available so we can make our own maps? The response to the availability of data underlying the gender map was amazing.

Dean A.

Very interesting and compelling analysis.

Contrary to some of the other posts (i.e. Ralph Brown), I am not overly burdened by any "bleed out" of your maps into the "great lakes"...I think those are rather sarcastic, defensive and/or possibly even narrow-minded comments by a few that may not be "agreeable" with the general overview you are providing on the maps.

Having worked for over 20 years in most of the areas highlighted and hiring staff for my regional offices, I believe there is significant substance and accuracy to the personality maps, highlighting the general views/personality types experienced in various parts of the U.S.

For Brown to dispute that there are inherent geographical differences in individuals such as "more open to experience", conditioned or otherwise, is simply not accurate. Disputing that there are general and fundamental personality differences regionally in the U.S. regarding attitudes, risk, etc., may simply be a result of his personal lack of experience in traveling or dealing with diverse groups of people throughout the country.

Ralph Brown

Well, I'd think the first criteria people would use when evaluating any information is deciding if it can possibly be correct.

In this case the answer is obviously no.

Before anyone disputes this, please first read the post (Dean A.) then look at the graphics and think about what they mean.

It is impossible that an accurate survey of any population characteristic could show large concentrations of people far offshore.

It is almost impossible that any characteristic of a human population radially and symmetrically changes in smooth steps without regard to environments (urban vs rural, wealthy vs poor, conservative vs liberal).

All the maps show significant offshore populations as well as smooth symmetrical variations unaffected by environmental differences.

The maps as shown cannot possibly reflect real data about any characteristic of the population of the US. Since the author states that these reflect the source data for the study, I strongly question the methodology and hence the conclusions.

Jim Russell

Well, you've hit the big time now, Rich. The Globe article was featured on one of the most intellectually stimulating blogs going, 3 Quarks Daily.


Cheers from Neu(rotic) Jersey.

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