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Moving to a New Place Can Change Your Personality

If you move to a new state, will you get a new state of mind? Yes, it turns out, according to a new study in the Journal of Research Personality, which looked at state-based differences in attitudes.

As someone who has made a few big moves (from Ohio to Ireland to New York City) I can absolutely confirm this from my own nonscientific method of observing my own personality. This was evident to me for the first time when I moved to Dublin, Ireland, during the George W. Bush administration. It was that delightful time when it was cool to shit on anything American — including personality traits. I was told by Irish friends and colleagues that they would “beat the Yank out of me yet,” primarily meaning they’d make me less outwardly confident (without alcohol), make me start apologizing for everything and teach me not to say or do anything “out of turn” (like having an opinion on a place where you weren’t born but definitely pay taxes).

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Ends up, these are the exact opposite personality traits that you need to survive in New York City — especially when riding the subway. It’s been nearly four years, but I’m finally settling into my new life here. Instead of saying “sorry” or “pardon” when someone else is standing in my way I found myself yelling “What are you waiting for, a fucking invitation?!” to a guy blocking foot traffic in Penn Station only yesterday. According to this new study, this makes sense, as New York ranks as one of the most neurotic and least agreeable states in the country.

But aren’t these just geographic stereotypes? Sort of, lead author William Chopik, a psychologist at Michigan State University told New York Magazine’s The Science of Us — but a lot of them are confirmed.

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But before trading in your MetroCard for a minivan and moving to the Midwest to make you a “nicer” person, consider that the degree of influence a place has on a person depends on what drives their personality in general.

New York City apartment buildings
Image: littleny/Getty Images

According to Jason Rentfrow, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, this typically involves three factors that may, individually or together, shape state and regional variation: migration patterns, ecology and social influence. Migration patterns make sense. For example, once a city gets a reputation as being a haven for artists, naturally it will attract other like-minded individuals — or those interested in living near artistic folk.

The impact of ecology turns up in the form of seasonal behavioral changes — like a place with year-round sunny weather resulting in putting transplants from colder climates in better moods.

But like many things, peer pressure can have the biggest impact on a person’s behavior, as people tend to mimic the practices and attitudes of those surrounding them. I can definitely relate to that. In my first few months in New York, a man got on the 7 train dressed head to toe in Tommy Bahama apparel and carrying a foldable beach chair, looking completely out of place in Queens, like he was en route to a Jimmy Buffet convention. Clearly annoyed with having to share the space with us commuters, he kept hitting people with the beach chair and ultimately ended up resting it on top of my head. While was trying mentally to coming up with a strategy, this amazing woman next to me looked him squarely in the eyes, said “NOPE” and moved the chair off the top of my head.

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Now, several years later, I’m proud to say that I’m the mouthy lady who will force an entitled teenage boy out of his subway seat so an elderly person can sit down or will make sure a fellow commuter isn’t getting hit on the head by a folding beach chair. Thanks for that, New York.

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