Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Sorting the nation by personality type

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Kevin Drum has an extremely interesting post on the results of a recent study. From his post (but read the whole thing, which includes charts and graphs):

The key personality test used to construct the maps above, after all, was a study of the“Big Five” personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This is a widely accepted model of studying personality (and no, it is not the same thing as Myers-Briggs). For many years, scientists have known that some of the Big Five dimensions are highly political. In particular, liberals tend to score much higher on Openness (interest in novel experiences and ideas), while conservatives score much higher on Conscientiousness (preference for order, stability, and structure in your life).

The study, and the resulting maps, put an exclamation point on this finding. After all, the “friendly and conventional” part of the US scores quite low on Openness in the study—much lower than either of the other two regions—even as it outscores both of the other two regions in Conscientiousness. The “friendly and conventional” region was also the only Republican-voting region of the three, and the most Protestant.

Granted, not every state with a “friendly and conventional” personality voted Republican in the last election, and there are some oddballs and outliers in other regions, too. But the overall trend is clear. The residents of more liberal and more conservative states differ in personality: In how open their residents are to new experiences, and in how much they prize order and stability in their lives.

How do these personality dimensions drive ideology? Well, put simply, people who are Open embrace change. Fixing healthcare with a big new system and way of doing things? Bring it on. By contrast, people who are low on Openness and high on Conscientiousness are interested in stability and just not messing with it. Yes, that’s right: The core of the left-right divide, which turns on one’s relative embrace of change versus the status quo, is rooted in an individual’s psychological makeup. And personality traits, in turn, aresubstantially heritable and run in families.

So how did we end up so divided? On the individual level, psychological differences between people have always been present, but geography seems to be becoming ever more important as a factor. In particular, the study by Rentfrow and colleagues suggest that people who are high on Openness are naturally more daring and experimental, and often all too eager to leave traditional parts of the country, where they know they just don’t belong, and relocate. Indeed, the Time.com version of the map, which lets you take a personality test and then figure out what state you belong in, in effect encourages precisely this sort of psychological mobility.

In other words, there’s a huge ideological sort going on, probably much of it driven by Open people leaving to be closer to other Open people—so they can all hang out at coffeehouses and complain about the Tea Party—and more traditional people staying behind where they prize family and community. And this, in turn, likely explains a substantial part of the US’s growing political polarization. Or as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt just put it on our newly launched Inquiring Minds podcast, . . .

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 12:55 pm

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