2008.05.14 Feeling neurotic? It's OK

Written by David Green.


The long-term forecast for this region calls for conscientious behavior with a touch of neuroticism.

What? Has the idiot finished with Lyons and now he’s going after all of us? That seems to be the case. I’m obviously a man with too much information and an inability to keep quiet.

My new information was collected by a couple of researchers who spun regional personality data into a set of five maps of the USA.

Why just five maps? Because classic psychology studies focus on five broad personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

It turns out there are clusters of like-minded individuals and their presence can be shown on a map.

So how are those people over in Lyons...just joking. We’re all in this together. Our shared traits tend to cover a wide swath of territory. Let’s take a close look at what’s become known as our psychogeography.

What about Agreeableness? No, that’s not us. There’s a wide river of agreeable people flowing out of Minnesota and following the Mississippi River down to the Gulf. Interesting, don’t you think? Must be some connection. In the south it spreads out wide and nearly the entire state of Georgia is the hotbed of agreeable people.

These people tend to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic. Social harmony, an optimistic view of human nature.

We’re not characterized by an Openness to Experience, either, but that map is rather empty. Those people are clustered in southern Florida, Austin, Los Angeles and California’s Bay Area, Seattle and New York City.

The Openness people appreciate art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity and a variety of experience. Hmmm, is this why I sometimes feel out of place in Morenci?

Everyone has his or her unique mixture of traits. An Open person could also possess a blend of Agreeableness: the unconventional views could be tempered by conforming actions. That’s safe for a small town.

So what are we like around here? Extroverted? Energy, positive emotions, seeking stimulation—a lot of interaction with the external world.

There’s something peculiar with this map. Every personality type has to fade off somewhere and the clusters of Extroverts tapers off right around here.

A glance at the map shows density around Chicago and spreading up toward Madison. Less intense is an enormous area starting up in Minnesota and heading down through Missouri to the Gulf. Central Florida is crawling with Extroverts.

The map shows the spread moving back north right up into Michigan except for this hole which is most of Ohio. A close-up view shows the band of Extroverts skirting around Fulton and Lenawee counties.

That’s because we don’t really like drawing attention to ourselves. We’re quiet around strangers and we really don’t have a lot to say.

There are only two of the Big Five remaining. Surely we must have some common properties.

We do. We’re Conscientious and it’s a Michigan thing. A good share of the state has this personality type, but the map shows this characteristic mostly in the southeast U.S., with a finger off toward eastern Nebraska plus widespread coverage in New Mexico and Arizona.

What does this say about us? We show self-discipline and aim for achievement. We plan rather than act spontaneously. We get our chores done. We’re boring?

This leaves number five: Neuroticism. We’re far from the hotbed of the East Coast, but the second-strongest collection of neurotics is clustered in southern Ohio, from Columbus down to Cincinnati, spilling over into northern Kentucky and moving northeast into western Pennsylvania. The bottom tier of Michigan counties also favors the unstable types.

We neurotics have a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily—anger, depression, anxiety. We see ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult.

By now, I expect that you have taken pieces of the Big Five and created your own mental puzzle to explain yourself.

And for those of you readers who were born here but no longer live in the area, now you know why you left. You just had to go off and join your own people.

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