Where You Are Is Who You Are: Personality By Geography

I came across this sort of goofy article about how people’s personalities shift depending on where they live. Why do I call it goofy? Because insofar as “personality” refers to stable characteristics of an individual, it shouldn’t be especially mutable based on location. But what the article does capture is that the environment we live in goes a long way toward determining how we express those personality traits through behavior.

The article points out a few reasons why the city or town you live in might affect your behavior:

  • Places have reputations (e.g. New York City is fast-paced and competitive) and that draws a certain type of person to move there, thereby reinforcing the reputation
  • Peer pressure or social contagion, where we look to others to determine the appropriate behaviors
  • Cost-benefit analyses that show certain behaviors are more successful in an area

I’d add that the behavior cues in any one environment will shape people’s behavior. We are very sensitive to environmental constraints on what we do. New York City’s reputation as being fast-paced may have a lot to do with its walkability, the timing of the lights at cross-walks, and the volume of people using the sidewalks. Those factors encourage a certain style of walking.  The volume of people entering and exiting any Manhattan store is high enough that involved hellos could mean diminished business, where in a small Iowa town not stopping to chat with a customer would have entirely different implications. The environment, culture, and individual behaviors are all shaping each other, all the time.

So if you find yourself visiting a new place and adapting your behaviors to the local style, it’s likely not that your personality is changing. Instead, look around you; how does the place itself provide cues and guardrails that guide your behaviors?

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