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Regions of Personality and Attitudes at the Sub-County Level: An Investigation of Santa Barbara County, California


Previous research has indicated that the personality characteristics of individuals, as measured by the “Big Five” personality traits, are often spatially distributed within a population in non-random fashion. Although this phenomenon has been observed at between-country and sub-country (regional) scales of analysis, I advance this field of inquiry by investigating the presence of “personality regions” at a significantly smaller scale, specifically within the county of Santa Barbara, California. Through analysis of survey data collected from over 500 residents of the county, I determine that the county is regionalized non-randomly in terms of the Big Five trait openness. In addition, I find that the political attitudes individuals express, correlated to some extent with openness, are also distributed within the county in a non-random manner. I make novel use of an “a posteriori” approach in conjunction with regional optimization methods to identify and map meaningful, empirically derived regions across the county. The most notable regional division is between a higher openness/more politically liberal southeast and a lower openness/less politically liberal northwest (often referred to colloquially in the county as a South County/North County divide). This distinction is valid even when controlling for a range of socio-demographic variables. Living in more heavily urbanized areas is associated with greater neuroticism and political liberalism, but while this explains part of the major regional divide in the county, it does not explain all or even most of it. Using residential history data, I also test to see whether residents are more likely to “fit” regional personality and attitudinal norms with greater length of time spent living in the region, which would be indicative of an acculturation effect. However, I determine that length of time as a regional resident has no bearing on conformity to the norm, suggesting acculturation does not play a role in forming or maintaining a regional average personality. Finally, I find that being a political liberal is associated with a greater sense of identification with and attachment to Santa Barbara County, even when controlling for covariates. This suggests that individuals in the political majority are more likely to feel connected to the places in which they live.

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