Are You Friendly, Temperamental, or Creative? It May Partly Depend on Where You Live

Is your personality defined by your locale?

It goes without saying that our culture’s values and norms define – or at least influence – each of us.

They determine what is (or should be) important in our lives and, in doing so, drive our motivations.

As this study shows, our culture may even play a role in shaping our personalities.

Big Five Trait Measures

Not only do personality norms differ across national cultures, but they differ across regions within a nation as well.

This study, led by Peter Rentfrow at the University of Cambridge, found three standout regional psychological profiles in the US. 

Researchers took five samples of data through various methods and Big Five trait measures, in a multisample approach taken from different self-reported personality studies collected over 12 years.

Three Psychological Regions in the US

After analyzing responses from more than 1.5 million participants, researchers found three distinct personality types.

  • Cluster 1 – Friendly and Conventional
  • Cluster 2 – Relaxed and Creative
  • Cluster 3 – Temperamental and Uninhibited

The Deep South and Upper Midwest share personality traits identified as “friendly and conventional.”

This is Cluster 1.

Often referred to as “Red” states, this region of Middle America is known for conservative social values and was found to have high levels of Extraversion and low levels of Openness.

Cluster 2, predominantly in the West, is defined as “relaxed and creative.”

The region has a larger population with college degrees, lower levels of Extraversion, and higher levels of Openness.

Other character traits attributed to Cluster 2 are calmness and emotional stability.

Cluster 3, predominantly located in the Northeast, is described as “temperamental and uninhibited.” 

The “Blue” states have low Extraversion and Agreeableness and a high level of Neuroticism.

They also have higher levels of irritability, depression, and stress.

However, they share one personality trait with Cluster 2, in that they’re considered more Open.

The study concludes,

“The psychological profiles were found to cluster geographically and displayed unique patterns of associations with key geographical indicators.”

These psychological clusters may produce the regional variations noted in key indicators such as politics, economics, health, and social attributes.

Selective Migration

While these results may suggest that each region’s culture informs the personality of its residents, selective migration is cited as one possible factor in these regional differences.

This is when someone chooses to move to a locale that complements their needs, personality, and mentality.

For instance, those seeking Openness might settle in (or remain in) a locale known for diversity, while those who are high in Extraversion might settle in (or remain in) a locale where a social network, family, and community are important.

As the study notes, this investigation departs from earlier regional research focusing on voting patterns, economic indicators, cultural stereotypes, etc.

Instead, this study outlines residents’ psychological characteristics, which factor into microlevel PESH metrics via individual-level behaviors.

Culture and Self: How Self-Esteem is Based on the Fulfillment of Dominant Cultural Values 

Does one’s culture influence self-regard?

This article by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) suggests that it actually informs it.

How?

Everyone bases their success or level of achievement on the dominant values of their culture.

Even if a person’s personal values differ from the norm, their self-esteem is often based on fulfilling cultural values.

Let’s see why.

The Survey

Fulfilling one’s personal values has long been viewed in psychology as the greatest influence on self-esteem.

But that may not be the case.

A global study, conducted by social psychologist, Maja Becker, at the CLLE (Laboratoire Cognition, Langue, Langages, Ergonomie) department of the Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail, surveyed 5,000 teenagers and young adults from 19 different countries.

200 young people from countries in Eastern and Western Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East took part.

Questions in the survey covered personal and cultural values and to what degree they impacted the students’ self-esteem.

Key Factors of Cultural Influence

What the survey found was that four key factors drove self-esteem in all cultures:

  • Earning social status
  • Fulfilling one’s duty
  • Controlling one’s life
  • Benefitting others

The study also found that the students’ own personal values had little to do with their level of self-esteem.

Rather, self-esteem is measured against our ability to fulfill dominant cultural values.

Fulfillment of Values = Self-Esteem

Each culture places different degrees of importance on these four factors.

For instance, those from Middle Eastern, African, or Asian cultures that value tradition and conformity might place more importance on doing one’s duty and benefitting others.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating this fulfillment of duties.

And those from Western cultures whose values lie in individualism and freedom might place more importance on controlling one’s life.

Thus, individuals in such cultures derive their self-esteem from demonstrating such control.

Even if one doesn’t personally subscribe to their own culture’s values, they are still influenced by them on a deeply personal level.

Subtly, societal expectations can make or break an individual’s psyche and self-worth.

Next week, we’ll discuss how a culture’s time perspective might also influence self-esteem.

Uncertainty Avoidance and Ambiguity Tolerance: Accepting Uncertainty in a Foreign Culture

For more than half a century, ambiguity tolerance has been a subject of research in various branches of psychology.

One of the premiere studies on the topic analyzed ethnic prejudices in California.

Personality, company culture, and national culture have since been measured by this variable.

One such expression of ambiguity tolerance was identified by social psychologist Geert Hofstede’s research under the umbrella of “uncertainty avoidance.”

Uncertainty avoidance

We’ve discussed Hofstede’s work in this area before.

The four cultural dimensions Hofstede first identified were:

For all intents and purposes, we’ll only be discussing the dimension of uncertainty avoidance in this post.

Hofstede describes this dimension as the idea that:

“What is different is dangerous.”

He anecdotally illustrates an example of this.

An elderly American couple finds themselves babysitting their grandchildren in a small town in Italy, while the parents are temporarily located there. The grandchildren are friends with local Italian children, who all enjoy playing in the central piazza.

So, there the American grandparents are, allowing their grandchildren to run free with little restriction. Accustomed to “free play,” they don’t stand in the way of their grandchildren messing about, even if they fall down and lightly hurt themselves.

The Italian grandparents, on the other hand, are on it. Not only are their grandkids not allowed for a moment out of their sight, but any hurts that befall them are conscientiously dealt with. The child is picked up and brushed off in an instant.

This illustrates the differences in ambiguity tolerance between Americans and Italians.

In general, Americans have higher ambiguity tolerance.

Safe versus dangerous and clean versus dirty are two distinctions that an Italian child learns first during primary socialization.

The American grandparents see nothing to worry about with the dirt and danger in the piazza. In fact, they see no dirt or danger there, whatsoever.

Ambiguity Tolerance Research Evolves

Ambiguity tolerance is directly related to Hofstede’s uncertainty avoidance.

Furnham and Ribchester define it in their research:

“Ambiguity tolerance refers to the way and degree to which an individual or group perceives and processes information about ambiguous situations or stimuli when confronted by an array of unfamiliar, complex, or incongruent clues.”

Ambiguous stimuli cause a person with low ambiguity tolerance to avoid, feel stress, and react hastily.

Someone with high ambiguity tolerance may seek out ambiguous stimuli, as they desire to engage with such interesting and challenging environments. 

As you might assume, entering into a foreign culture is an ambiguous enterprise. You are hit with unknown stimuli, so a high ambiguity tolerance – or your ability to develop it – is an essential attribute for a foreign manager.

We’ll talk more about how to do just that next week.