You Are Where You Live

Sharon Begley points to new research that suggests we live in places that fit our personality.

Illustration by Malin Rosenqvist

Everyone knows that New Yorkers think “multicultural” means cursing at someone in their own language. Californians send their dogs to psychiatrists, while Southerners driving behind a little old lady going 30 in a 65-mile-anhour zone think, “Bless her heart.” Midwesterners, we all know, carefully install security lights on their house and garage—and then leave them both unlocked.

Generalizations anyone? American regional stereotypes date back to the 17th century, when Virginians thought Massachusetts Bay colonists were an awfully intolerant lot. Obviously, many of our jokes about people from different parts of the country exaggerate their character traits just a bit, but a new field of research—the geography of personality—finds that even if some regional stereotypes are fictions, Americans with similar temperaments do seem to cluster. The research has implications both practical and philosophical. It sheds light on America’s increasing red-blue polarization and suggests how enduring it may be. And it raises profound questions about who each of us is as an individual and how much control we really have over that.

To construct America’s personality map, scientists led by psychologist Jason Rentfrow of Cambridge University, who grew up in Louisiana and Texas, correlated people’s demographic data, including where they live, with…