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The Un-United States of Personality: How Your Mood is Related to Where You Live

mood and state

Photo credit: iStockPhoto

I grew up in Maryland, a pretty neutral state in the grand scheme of themes. When I headed a couple states south for college, a clear divide between Northerners and Southerners became apparent. Thinking it was just a stereotype that Southerners were friendly, I was shocked when my first day on campus somebody held the dorm door open for me when I was a good 20 yards away. Southern gentlemen truly did exist. On the opposing side, anybody slightly loud or abrasive was automatically dubbed a Northerner. A stereotype for sure, but about 99% of the time it was an accurate assumption.

So why is it so easy to tell where somebody is from based on how they act? Apparently it isn’t all fabricated stereotypes people’s personalities really do reflect where they live. Or really, where they live reflects their personality.

You know the old saying “opposites attract”? Not so much when it comes to where you live. Instead, the “like attract likes” phrase of the science world seems to be more accurate. A recently concluded 13-year study revealed that there are three big personality types in the US, and they have a geographical association. The West Coast and Rocky Mountains are relaxed and creative, the Midwest and South are friendly and conventional, and New England and the Mid-Atlantic are temperamental and uninhibited.

As within any assumption, there are a couple outliers, namely Texas, Virginia, and North Carolina. I’m proud to say I live in one of those outliers: North Carolina. Though NC is technically in “the South,” it tends to attract people with the same relaxed and creative personalities of the West. Texas stands out as the lone temperamental state in the southern half of the country, reflecting similar personality types as the Northeast.

Not surprisingly, here are some of the winning personality traits by state:

– Utah: Most agreeable

– D.C.: Least agreeable (government shutdown, anyone?)

– Wisconsin: Most extroverted

– West Virginia: Most neurotic

– North Dakota: Least open

The results were determined by a number of personality tests taken by 1.6 million Americans (Hawaiians and Alaskans were excluded due to poor response). The most relevant personality test used is called the Big Five Inventory, or OCEAN test, which looks five dimensions of personality: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. (You can take the test yourself here.) You can also take an abbreviated version of the test on TIME.com which will spit out your results based on the state you fit into best. I scored a strong “Oregon,” which while geographically distant, isn’t too off from my own state’s personality profile of relaxed and creative.

Of course this type of study begs the answer to the chicken and the egg type question. Which causes which: personality leads you to a state, or your state affects your personality?

The researchers hypothesize that this geographical divide dates back to our early ancestors, when those with curious and open temperaments decided to explore westward. These traits were then passed down through generations and generations of DNA, keeping those attributes in that region. Likewise, those that are traditional and conventional tend to stay put.

Interestingly enough this isn’t just a theory. Turns out the later a state joined the union, the higher they scored on the “relaxed and creative” scale.

Although the personality divide among regions is pretty clear, it’s not the only thing that separates or joins us as a nation. Other key factors include politics, economy, health, and social attitudes, all of which can also be reflected in these same personality breakdowns. Temperamental and uninhibited regions like New England also tend to have more affluent older adults and politically liberal people. The friendly and conventional states of the South were also found to be less educated, less affluent, more politically conservative, and not as healthy as other states. Relaxed and creative states like the West are more likely to be liberal, wealthy, educated, and healthy.

So while it’s indeed a stereotype that Mid-Westerners and Southerners are some of the most friendly people in the country, it’s also pretty darn true.

Does your personality match your state?

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