The Psychogeography of the USA
Richard Florida is a researcher and author whose column, Where Do All the Neurotics Live?, appears in today’s Boston Globe. The article offers some interesting insights into the potential “psychogeography” of the United States.
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.
These are referred to as the “Big Five” personality factors by psychologists and can generally be measured by a test called the NEO-FFI, NEO PI-R, or something along those lines (here’s an online version, but it takes forever to complete). Wikipedia’s description of each of these traits is succinct:
The Big Five factors and their constituent traits can be summarized as follows:
Openness – appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience.
Conscientiousness – a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
Extraversion – energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.
Agreeableness – a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
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.
Is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do people move to a specific area because it’s full of people like themselves, or are these areas simply full of these kinds of people due to age-old immigration patterns? The research can’t really say, but Florida does make some educated guesses.
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.
One of the things interesting to me, and not mentioned in the article, is that the entire West coast is completely absent from representation on the maps. This must be due to lack of data or something, because it’s hard to imagine that California doesn’t have a specific concentration of a certain type of person.
You can view all five maps of the USA’s psychogeography here (PDF).
Grohol, J. (2018). The Psychogeography of the USA. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychogeography-of-the-usa/