Via Andrew Sullivan, here is a fascinating study (pdf) in academic psychology that appears to show the presence of a fairly distinct Northwest personality. The researchers ranked the 50 states plus DC according to the presence of each of five personality traits: extraversion; agreeableness; conscientiousness; neuroticism; and openness.
Northwest states are among the most open and least neurotic places you can find, but we are also among the least extraverted. Not surprisingly, Oregon and Washington perform almost identically on every measure. More interesting, perhaps, is that Alaska, Idaho, and Montana are also very similar in some respects (though quite different in some others).
First, the bad news. If you’re looking for extraverts, you’ve come to the wrong place. Oregon is the most extraverted state in the region, but it ranks only an unfriendly 44th most extraverted. Remember, this is the state who’s governor famously said: “Come visit us again and again… But, for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.”
Meanwhile, Idaho is 46th for extraversion while Washington is 48th, and Alaska is 49th. Montana, partially in the Northwest, is 43rd. To find a comparably chilly reception, you’d have to visit the New Hampshire-Vermont region (50th and 47th, respectively) or the Maryland-Virginia cluster (45th and 51st).
The good news is that the Northwest is not a neurotic place. Washington is the 46th least neurotic state in the union, followed by Alaska at 47th, and Oregon at 48th. (Idaho and Montana rank 32rd and 39th, respectively.) To get any less neurotic, you’d have to move to South Dakota (49th), Colorado (50th), or Utah (51st).
The other nice thing about the Northwest is our openness. Oregon is the 3rd most open state in the nation while Washington is 5th. (Only New York, Massachusetts, and DC are comparably open.) But move away from the urban Northwest and the openness appears to fall off: Montana is 16th; Idaho is 30th; and Alaska is 49th.
When it comes to conscientiousness, we’re fair to middlin’, but we’re similar to one another. Washington (25th) is the most conscientious state in the region followed by Idaho (26th), Montana (29th), and Oregon (31st). Alaska, however, ranks 51st; it’s the least conscientious state in the country.
We’re about average on agreeableness too, but we’re not as internally similar. Oregon (18th) is a bit more agreeable than Washington (22nd), but both states are a lot more agreeable than Idaho (39th), Montana (42nd), or Alaska (51st), which is the least agreeable state.
Anyway, interesting stuff I thought. Oh, and it’s worth remembering that these five personality traits are part of a widely used model in psychology and that they have specific clinical meanings. Here’s what the Wikipedia entry has to say about them:
- Openness – appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, curiosity and variety of experience.
- Conscientiousness – a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
- Extraversion – energy, positive emotions, surgency and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.
- Agreeableness – a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
- Neuroticism – a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability; sometimes called emotional instability.
Image is of the old redwood signs that used to grace Oregon’s borders, “welcoming” travelers—and reminding them to keep on moving.