How Would You Target the Stress Belt?

Marketers, Take Note: Individuals Aren't the Only Ones With Personalities, According to Study

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YORK, Pa. ( -- Neurotic in New York? Introverted in New England?

Everyone's heard it or seen it on TV shows such as "Seinfeld" and "Newhart." But are these just stereotypes used in pop culture and entertainment, or is there truth there?

That's what three psychology researchers decided to find out in a newly published study. They took more than half a million online responses to psychological and demographic questions and broke them down into the 50 states and Washington, D.C., by five key personality traits.

"What we found may seem trivial or obvious, but no one has really documented these personality differences before," said Samuel D. Gosling, a University of Texas associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study along with Peter J. Rentfrow and Jeff Potter.

As one might guess, the study found that state personality characteristics tend to be clustered in regions -- that is, nearby states often share personality traits. For instance, "agreeableness" was most prevalent in the Midwest and South and least in the Northeast. Extroverts concentrated in higher numbers in central U.S. states, while introverts were more often found in the Northwest and on the East Coast. Interestingly, the pattern for neuroticism the researchers found suggests a "stress belt" stretching from Maine to Louisiana with that line of states at the highest levels, surrounded on either side by states with just slightly lower ones.

What does it all mean for marketers? As Mr. Gosling pointed out, "Marketing has typically worked on social-demographic variables, but there is a movement in marketing to include psychographics. We know personality is important in all kinds of things, from education levels to health behaviors."

The other value of the state-by-state personality-trait breakdown comes when it is combined and layered with other data. "One of the things we found most interesting were relationships [to other variables] and how personality predicts that," he said.

In the study, the researchers compared the five personality traits against social indicators such as crime, social involvement, health-promoting behavior and mortality, and found that the predictions they made before doing the study were almost always supported. For instance, they predicted that social involvement would be higher in extrovert states, that health-promoting behavior would be higher in conscientious states and mortality lower in agreeable states. All proved to be positive associations.

Of course, this data is a benchmark. The potential uses for psychology and marketing are still to be determined. For instance, ZIP-code demographic data already in use by marketers could be combined with the state psychographic findings to develop even more detailed target consumer profiles. Check to see if your state made a mark below, or go to (created and run by Mr. Potter) to find your individual Big Five personality traits.
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