Sunday, June 12, 2016

Does your personality fit your city? Does it matter?

Where do you live? Why do you live there? For most people, choice of where to live comes down to a few obvious and important factors: family, job, money. Have you ever wondered whether your self-esteem takes a hit when you live in a city that doesn't jive with your personality? Psychologists have. 

Just last month, Dr. Weibke Bleidorn, University of California Davis, and colleagues published a study looking at the whether a person's self esteem varies as a function of the fit between a their personality and the personality of their city  To do this, they used data collected online from the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project between December 1998 and December 2009. Participants in this study were between the ages of 16-60 and were included in the study if they lived in a city (based on self-reported zip code) that had at least 199 other respondents. The resulting sample included data from 543,934 individuals living in 860 cities in the United States. 

The online questionnaire included measures of personality and self-esteem. Psychologists typically measure personality across 5 dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability (also known as neuroticism). Click here for Wikipedia's definition of each of these domains of personality. Each participant answered 44 questions whose answers placed them on a continuum for each of these domains. If you're interested, you can take the test for free here. To measure self-esteem they asked participants to indicate the degree to which they agreed with the statement, "I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem," on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). As simple as it sounds, self-esteem used to be measured in psychology research using more questions, but this single item tends to be all you need to ask. 

With this data, the research team was able to compute scores for the personality of each participant, as well as scores for each of the 860 cities represented. Using these scores, they were then able to disentangle the contributions of an individual's personality, their city's personality, and person-city personality match as predictors of self-esteem. Not surprisingly, the more emotionally stable (less neurotic), extroverted, open, agreeable, and conscientious a person was, the higher their self-esteem. Interestingly, individuals who lived in cites where the average person was higher in emotional stability, lower in openness, higher in agreeableness, and higher in conscientiousness, the higher their self-esteem. However, these weren't necessarily the question the researchers wanted to answer. The research team was more interested in whether fit between an individual and that of others in their city was important for self-esteem. 

As it turns out, it is, but only for openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. They found that individuals higher in openness have higher self-esteem when living in cities filled with open people, people higher in agreeableness report higher self-esteem when they live in cities filled with agreeable people, and people higher in conscientiousness report higher self-esteem when living in cities filled with conscientious people. But also, the other side of that coin may be true; less open people may have higher self-esteem in cities with less open people. 

So what might this mean for all of us wherever we live, by chance or by choice, and/or who may have to decide where to live in the future? Well, it means that there are many contributors to our self-esteem. First is our personality, but also the personalities of those around us. As a clinical psychologist, I can't help but point out that this means there are many pathways to higher self-esteem. One can practice emotional stability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, and openness. One can seek out cities that promote emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness in their potential and current residents. Look to their elected officials, their mascots, their city-sponsored events. And as a result of this study, one can learn to appreciate his/her own personality strengths and seek out cities that are matched in those qualities (particularly openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness)

There are limitations to the conclusions we can draw from this study. In particular, there is no way to rule out the possibility that having higher self-esteem influences a person's personality and also the cities they choose to live in. Nevertheless, self-esteem is an important psychological resource that psychologists want to understand how to cultivate in individuals and societies alike. So here it is sensible to try and understand what predicts self-esteem, rather than what self-esteem predicts. Hopefully, the next time you consider moving to a new city, you will think about more than just the practicalities of living there but also the personalities of its residents before you sign on the dotted line. It matters. 

Bleidorn, W., Sch√∂nbrodt, F., Gebauer, J. E., Rentfrow, P. J., Potter, J., & Gosling, S. D. (2016). To Live Among Like-Minded Others Exploring the Links Between Person-City Personality Fit and Self-Esteem. Psychological science27(3), 419-427.

Our gratitude to unsplash  for the beautiful photos. 

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