Politics is personality.

Time to move?

Time to move?

America’s Mood Map.  You have probably seen this map make its circuit around the web:  When Mother Jones blogged about the map on October 30, 2013, Mother Jones reported that the map had 873,000 likes on Time’s Science and Space blog (link to Mother Jones map here). According to reporter Chris Mooney, the maps are

“based on a just-published paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Peter J. Rentfrow and his colleagues. After administering a battery of personality tests to more than a million and a half Americans across the country, the study divides us up into three psychological regions: The “friendly and conventional” South and Great Plains; the “relaxed and creative” mountain states and West Coast; and the “temperamental and uninhibited” East Coast and New England states.”

The data was collected through a survey that measures the Big Five Personality Inventory: one acronym for the personality traits is OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism), however, other acronyms exist for the traits (see Wikipedia entry about the Big Five here).

Since I frequently think about societal trends, sociology, geography, politics and culture, and I relocated and experienced serious culture shock, this so-called “mood map” intrigued me.  I took the survey found at the Science and Space blog (survey link here).  I took this survey THREE times on different days when I was in different moods.  The result was the same each time:

Birth place.


Although a little disappointed, I was astonished to see that every single time I completed the survey, Tennessee was the result. THIS IS WHERE I WAS BORN.  My parents are from Tennessee, and my mother flew home for the birth of her first child so that she could be near family.  Tennessee is not where I grew up however.  I spent my early childhood in rural eastern Montana, and my high school years were spent in rural western Oregon.

So this got me thinking.  Is it possible that in my case, nurture was a stronger influence that nature?  Did my parents exert more power over my values and personality than my surroundings during my formative years?  I cannot say.  I don’t consider myself very conservative nor conventional: I like eating ethnic foods other than Mexican, and I have skinny dipped. I am not religious, and I ride my bike more than I drive. I’m an organic gardener. Yet, to my horror, my survey results would indicate that I’m more conservative than liberal.

Chris Mooney, the Mother Jones reporter, suggested that the study results indicate that in America at least “politics is personality.”  He notes that, in general, people gravitate towards other people with similar personality and values, personality is heritable, and the resultant political climate in a region is a reflection of these aggregate personality traits. His comments resonated with my earlier blog post about how local culture traced to the immigrants that settled in an area.

I’m sure some readers will take issue with the credibility or validity of the maps or survey.  Regardless, I think that the survey and the maps are a great snapshot and tool to gaining a better understanding of the cultural polarization in the United States and why some policies or even simply governance of the country is under such attack at this time. Mooney quotes social psychologist Jonathon Haidt,

” ‘For the first time in our history, the parties are not agglomerations of financial or material interest groups, they’re agglomerations of personality styles and lifestyles. [… ]If it’s now that ‘You people on the other side, you’re really different from me, you live in a different way, you pray in a different way, you eat different foods than I do.’ “

I don’t know about you, but I finally feel at peace knowing that there was a real reason for my difficulties when we moved here. It wasn’t so much as moving from a blue state to a red state.  No, it was way more personal.


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