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Geographical Psychology

What Is Geographical Psychology?

Geographical psychology researchers examine the links between geographic location and psychological phenomena, such as how and why personality traits, life satisfaction, social behavior, and other variables differ from place to place—or tend to cluster in certain areas. They may study people across different hemispheres, regions, states, neighborhoods, or other levels of division.

Just about any place contains psychologically diverse residents. But the general differences between populations in distinct places can be informative. For instance, if life satisfaction or the trait of neuroticism is higher in certain areas, researchers can explore whether aspects of those places, or of the populations that live or move there, help account for the relatively positive or negative findings.

How Place Connects to Personality

Why might people be more helpful to strangers in smaller cities? Why are those who live in temperate locales apparently more extraverted, on average? Why might different cultural traits emerge in two regions of the same country depending on whether their economies relied on rice or wheat production? The most obvious answer might be that particular physical environments influence the minds of the people who live there. But that’s only one possibility.

Peter J. Rentfrow and colleagues suggest in a paper that multiple potential factors lie behind place-trait associations. These include local social influences, environmental features such as climate or overcrowding, and a less intuitive factor called selective migration: People with certain traits, such as high openness to experience, may be more inclined to move to particular places like big cities. In short, a place can shape people, or people can shape a place.

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