Curious Clusters of Introverts
Do you feel in tune or out of step with most folks around you? Where you live may influence your answer. Consider this too when you travel.
When you learn that introverts make up one-quarter to one-half of humans, you might assume we’re spread equally around the world. That is, you would find introverts comprising one-quarter to one-half of people in Toronto and the same one-quarter to one-half in Timbuktu.
A team of psychologists at Cambridge University in the UK researched how introverted different US states are – how introverted the residents are. In their 2013 findings, the following five states, in order, were most introverted:
The states below, in order, emerged as the most extroverted:
See the results for all 48 continental US states here. (They left out Alaska and Hawaii.)
In 2015 the same research team released findings on personality types in regions of England, Wales and Scotland. Areas with the greatest number of introverts were:
North of England
The following areas had the most extroverts:
Pockets of the South and South East of England, Yorkshire and Scotland
As for other world locales, the website 16 Personalities reports that from its sample of 40 million respondents worldwide, the five most introverted countries ranked as follows:
The five most extroverted countries came out as these:
As for what explains these differences, several factors stuck out when I read up on researchers’ commentaries.
First, on the biological front there might be a genetic component to personality, partly from evolutionary adaptation to climates at various latitudes. In one setting sociability might be heavily advantageous, while in another location people who could easily bear long stretches away from their group would be better able to feed themselves and their dependents. Note, however, that in today’s geographically mobile world this factor probably correlates with where people came from many generations back more than with where they are now.
Second, then, is the gravitational element. To the extent that people choose where they live, they may choose partly on the basis of where they feel more comfortable or what kind of environment provides the best opportunity for their happiness. For instance, one study found that introverts prefer mountains or woods while extroverts would rather live in open, flat areas. And even in the same locale, I wonder whether personality influences how one modifies one’s property. Some of my neighbors cut down most of their trees, creating expansive lawns or fields, while my (introverted) husband and I have added extra trees for more of a cocoon feeling all around our house. To me, the treeless houses seem terribly exposed!
A third factor is culture – the values, customs, expectations and beliefs in the society that we grow up in. Anyone who travels notices that people in some places are louder, more aggressive or more enthusiastic than elsewhere. Or more laid back and contemplative. In the early 1980s, one of my favorite books explored Zen culture – the meditative arts of Japan that favored introvert-friendly quiet, form and imperfection. Likewise, anyone reading Chris Ould’s detective novels set in Denmark’s Faroe Islands (one of the five most introverted locales mentioned above) can’t help but notice the slow, subdued, brooding atmosphere there. Contrast that with a milieu that emphasizes boisterous drinking and dancing on tavern tables at night. It seems likely that the culture you happened to have been born into could exacerbate introvert or extrovert tendencies.
The field that studies these differences, called geographical psychology, hasn’t been around more than two decades. So they haven’t pinned down what causes what, even when researchers and observers agree on a temperamental leaning for a certain place. Then there’s the issue of whether to fight the findings or embrace them. Finland offers a fascinating example of what to do about a national psychological tendency.
In the 16 Personalities study mentioned above, Finland ranked as the seventh most introverted country – no surprise given the long-established reputation of Finns for being taciturn. Imagine a country with minimal small talk, where strangers mind their own business and a cherished saying goes, “Silence is gold, talking is silver.” At one point the country’s board of tourism brainstormed ways to coax Finns to become more conventionally welcoming. But Finnish advertising professionals decided instead to leverage the country’s love for quiet.
A 2016 “FinRelax” campaign encouraged tourists to come to Finland to chill out in its forests and de-stress in its saunas, making a plus out of its lack of pulsing nightlife. In 2019, a Burger King in Helsinki touted the world’s first silent drive-through. Instead of having to shout an order into a microphone – the American system that Finns hated – people could place an order and pick it up without having to utter a sound. The same year, Visit Finland capitalized on the UN having named Finland the world’s happiest country three years running by creating a “Rent a Finn” program where visitors could learn one-on-one (or two-on-two) about locals’ quiet enjoyment of the outdoors and the country’s soothing clean air.
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