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Mindful : April 2014
26 mindful April 2014 You Are Where You Live How did you end up living where you do? Is it all an accident? Likely not. Sharon Begley points to new research that suggests we live in places that fit our personality. Sharon Begley is the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. Everyone knows that New Yorkers think “multicultural” means cursing at someone in their own language. Cali- fornians send their dogs to psychiatrists, while Southern- ers driving behind a little old lady going 30 in a 65-mile-an- hour zone think, “Bless her heart.” Midwesterners, we all know, carefully install secu- rity lights on their house a nd garage—and then leave them both unlocked. Generalizations anyone? America n regional stereo- types date back to the 17th century, when Virginia ns thought Massachusetts Bay colonists were an aw fully intolera nt 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 persona lity— finds that even if some regional stereotypes a re fictions, Americans with sim- ila r 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 Rent- frow of Ca mbridge University, who grew up in Louisiana and Texas, correlated people’s demographic data, including where they live, with their psychological traits. Their findings a re reported in a 2014 paper in the Jour nal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers organized traits around the “Big Five” elements that have become standard in personality research: openness, consci- entiousness, extraversion, ag reeableness, a nd neuroti- cism (defined as being in neg- ative emotional states for long periods of time). For data, the scientists mined the online Personality Project (you → mind science Illustration by Gavin Potenza