Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Regional Differences and Similarities in the Personality of New Zealanders

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Regional Differences and Similarities in the Personality of New Zealanders

Article excerpt

Any collocation of persons, no matter how numerous, how scant, how even their homogeneity, how firmly they profess common doctrine, will presently reveal themselves to consist of smaller groups espousing variant versions of the common creed; and these sub-groups will manifest sub-sub-groups, and so to the final limit of the single individual, and even in this single person conflicting tendencies will express themselves.

--Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao (1958)

Research on the extent to which nations have different 'personalities', or more accurately, whether the citizens from some nations tend to differ from those in other nations in terms of core personality traits, have been comprehensively explored (e.g., Terracciano et al., 2005). By and large, this literature demonstrates that personality differences across nations tend to be fairly trivial (Terracciano et al., 2005). As such, the stereotypes ascribed to different nationalities tend to be greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, stereotypes about the personalities of people from different regions within a country still exist. To offer a few examples from New Zealand, anecdotal evidence would suggest that New Zealanders tend to talk about North Islanders and South Islanders, Aucklanders versus everyone else; and within Auckland, Westies, again perhaps, versus everyone else. However, despite what would seem to be a lively and robust anecdotal corpus of information documenting such differences, empirical research in the area is lacking.

In the current paper, we aim to document the differences (or the lack thereof) in personality across different regions of New Zealand. To do so, we draw upon data from the first wave of New Zealand's own national longitudinal study, the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS). In terms of regions, we focus on differences between people living in the 63 General Electoral Districts (GEDs) using the 2007 electoral boundaries. These area units provide a reasonably detailed level of differentiation between the regions of New Zealand and are also fundamentally important to the outcomes of elections in our nation.

We are unaware of any studies in New Zealand that have empirically tested whether there are regional differences in the personality of New Zealanders. Nevertheless, examining potential regional differences in personality is an important area of research for a number of reasons. First, empirical data can help refute laypeople's erroneous beliefs about the existence (and/or magnitude) of regional differences in personality. Second, research on aggregate personality scores across regions provides important baseline information that can be linked to future research on regional diversity, differences in voting patterns across electorates, regional differences in health and wellbeing, and possible differences in migration patterns. Research on regional differences in other nations, for example, has tended to focus on differences between states in the US, and has explored how state-level differences in personality correlate with support for the Republican versus Democratic parties (e.g., Rentfrow, 2010; Rentfrow, Jost, Gosling, & Potter, 2009).

A Big-Six Model of Personality

Personality is generally defined as "relatively enduring styles of thinking, feeling and acting" (McCrae & Costa, 1997, p. 509). Personality traits can be thought of as conceptualisations of recurring characteristics across people and across cultures (McCrae & Costa, 1997). Contemporary personality research has largely focused on the Big Five model of personality (Goldberg, 1981, 1990, 1999). This model identifies personality through the following five distinct dimensions: (a) Openness to Experience, (b) Conscientiousness, (c) Extraversion, (d) Agreeableness, and (e) Neuroticism. Openness to Experience captures engagement in task-related endeavours and curiousness. Conscientiousness includes diligence, organisation, and motivation to carry out tasks. …

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