The Truth About Regional Stereotypes

Sam Gosling, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. His work has been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times, Psychology Today, NPR, and "Good Morning America," and his research is featured in Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink." Gosling is the recipient of the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution. His first book, Snoop, was a New Scientist Editor's Pick for top books of 2008. His most recent research has focused on how animal psychology can inform theories of human personality and social psychology.

  • Transcript


Question: Did you collaborate with the futurist Richard Florida?


Sam Gosling: What he’s been doing is he’s been looking at personality differences across the nation- across the country. And he’s been doing international ones, too. That was a really interesting project. And it was one of these projects that never came to us- it wasn’t something we planned. I had just for years been collecting personality data on the Web, and we had literally hundreds of thousands of personality surveys, and my student was just he has this intuitive knack for something that’s interesting, and he- we had never thought of it- he just thought, okay, let’s go and see if there are differences in the states of personality. And so then since we did find some differences, he started collecting zip code data so we could get more finely-tuned portraits of personality differences.


Question: What did you find?


Sam Gosling: There were a number of findings. First of all, we were interested in whether this- we have this stereotype, right? About the laid-back dude Californians and the uptight Woody Allen neurotic New Yorkers. So we were looking at other differences in neuroticism. And that’s one of the ones that shows up most cleanly is we see, yes, indeed, there are- if you look at the map of the country, the northeast is higher in neuroticism and the southwest is lower in neuroticism. And these are very small differences, but they’re reliable differences. You know, of course, not everybody in New York is neurotic, but on average, they’re more neurotic than the average Californian.

An openness, too- we found some really nice findings with openness, which is really what’s linked to Richard Florida’s findings, in terms of- ‘cause that’s the one that’s really associated with creativity, and so there you find high openness, which is are people interested in abstract ideas, philosophical, intellectual and so on like that- you tend to find that down the coasts. And then there’s pretty much not much going on in the middle with one or two pockets of higher openness.


Recorded on: June 13, 2008.