Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mapping Urban Humankind

According to this, psychologists have found yet more ways of classifying people:

Psychologists have shown that human personalities can be classified along five key dimensions: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

Map these personality traits, somehow determined in a huge 'study', onto a map, and you get some interesting distributions. The authors of the article try to explain how it all works, and maybe they have a point or two. I'm not dissing their conclusions, for they are thought provoking.

But, as the Bob Seger song goes, 'The answer's in the question'. In this instance it lies in the classification system applied. I am unconvinced that the criteria are really as subject to reliable measurement as the underlying survey seems to imply.

You may also notice blank areas on a combined map, such as the one I quickly made up:

This, of course, makes sense, because if you look at a population density map, there is some correspondence:

And it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that the North East is a focus of neuroticism, which seems to correlate perfectly with population density.

And, here's another one, just for fun:

So, Neurotics Voted Kerry in the last US Presidential Election? Hmmfff...

Maybe the weirdest thing of all is the absence of 'Neurotics' in California. Consider the following list of symptoms of neurosis, found here:

...anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.

All of that is supposed to be absent in California?? Given the high population density that makes no sense whatsoever. I suspect that the methodology of the study ignored regional variations in assessment. After all, psychologists are people, too, and those practicing in California may be expected to have a different view of what's what than those practicing in NYC.

Things about humans are never easy, and while these maps are interesting, they are, at best, a first approximation to the real situation.

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