Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Dr. Sam Gosling's Study Finds a US with Three Regions of Neuroticism—that also Correlate to Voting Patterns

Sun, November 10, 2019
Dr. Sam Gosling's Study Finds a US with Three Regions of Neuroticism—that also Correlate to Voting Patterns
Map from Rentfrow et al., Personality Processes and Individual Differences

Can geography shape the character of a people or culture?
Dr. Gosling and colleagues applied regional levels of neuroticism to US & UK maps to see if they correlate to voting trends



For their 2013 study, "Divided We Stand: Three Psychological Regions of the United States and Their Political, Economic, Social, and Health Correlates," (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology), Prof. Samuel D Gosling and researchers at the University of Cambridge and University of Helsinki analyzed psychological surveys previously conducted in nearly two-thirds of all counties (2,082) in the U.S. to learn whether geography affects the character of a people in a region or a culture. The surveys had asked three million people about their habits and temperament, while focusing on neuroticism—the tendency to feel anxious, depressed and respond more severely to stress. The results showed a correlation between geography and personality type.

The team of researchers then applied that research to the phenomenon of the election of Pres. Donald Trump in the U.S., and to Brexit in England, for their 2018 study, "Fear, Populism, and the Geopolitical Landscape: The 'Sleeper Effect' of Neurotic Personality Traits on Regional Voting Behavior in the 2016 Brexit and Trump Elections" (Social Psychological and Personality Science).

With U.S. elections in the headlines again, and Brexit still a hot topic, this research is seeing renewed interest. See below an excerpt from a recent article in The Atlantic, "The Three Personalities of America," as well as several other articles featuring this study.


Excerpt from The Atlantic, "The Three Personalities of America"

Neuroticism is one of the “big five” traits that psychologists often use to measure personality. The study authors compared each county’s level of neuroticism with whether those counties later voted for Trump in the 2016 election, and whether they had historically voted for Republicans.

It turned out that neuroticism was indeed correlated with support for Trump. This was true even when controlling for each population’s racial makeup, education level, income, and political attitudes. In fact, neuroticism was strongly linked to the margin by which Trump outperformed the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. The same pattern held with Brexit votes, the study also found: The more neuroticism in a given area of the United Kingdom, the more likely people were to support the country leaving the European Union...

“Your genetics determines your range,” says Sam Gosling, a psychologist at the University of Texas who has worked with Rentfrow on many studies. On a 10-point scale, your biology might set you between a two and a five on openness, but your environment and other circumstances will determine whether you’re closer to the two or the five. “Even if you’re genetically low on openness but you live in New York City, you’re going to be exposed to a huge variety of ideas, different types of people, food, art, and culture,” Gosling says. “You’ll be toward the top of your biological range.”

Read full article here.


In the Press:

The Atlantic, "The Three Personalities of America" (11/19/19)
D Magazine, "Personality Study Claims Texans More Like East Coasters Than Southerners" (11/19/19)
CityLab, "The Three Personalities of America, Mapped" (11/18/19)
Daily Mail, "Regions where voters had higher fear, anxiety and anger - such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio - were MORE likely to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, study reveals" (11/18/19)
MEAWW, "Fear and anxiety played key role in getting Donald Trump elected in 2016, will it work again in 2020?" (11/18/19)
Herald Publicist, "Regions where voters have neurotic personalities in the US and UK voted for Donald Trump and Brexit" (11/18/19)

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