I only know the one Georges Brassens song. But that one song, La ballade des gens qui sont nés quelque part (ahem, roughly translated: The ballad of those who are born somewhere), sprang to mind the other day, and I can’t shake it off. It is a satire on chauvinism in general, and tells the story of those who get too excited in relating the merits of their particular locale.

So it could be about me. I live in Bath, a World Heritage City, don’t you know. Beautiful stone buildings, wonderful museums, great shopping, and don’t get me started on the music festivals. Have I mentioned the Children’s Literature Festival?… I did? You’ll not be surprised then that, happy fool that I am, I think Bath is different!

Well, not really. Closer to the truth may be that the Knackered Hack’s somewhat nomadic path thus far is more characteristic of the Beatles’ Nowhere Man.

But the reason why we live in a place now has scientific form, according to researchers at Cambridge University:-

The authors of the new study argue that the strongest personality traits within a given population become self-reinforcing by influencing the region’s life and culture.

For example, where the population is creative, imaginative and intellectual (as was found to be the case in states including New York and California), one might expect to find people who are interested in art, literature and science. This may in turn lead to the establishment of institutions such as universities and museums. These institutions then influence the views and values of the local populace, encourage more creative and imaginative people to move to the region, and give people who do not fit that profile less reason to live there.

Dr Jason Rentfrow, who was also behind a recent paper The content and validity of stereotypes about fans of 14 music genres, is cautious but nevertheless fairly confident that the findings stack up:-

Obviously it’s not as simple as saying that a person is guaranteed to be more anxious if they come from West Virginia or more religious because they happen to live in New Mexico; but we did find pretty clear signs that there are meaningful differences in the personalities of people living in different areas of the United States.

What is particularly impressive is that the results show the effects of personality on people’s social habits, values and lifestyles are so pronounced that they have an impact on much bigger social forces.”

I wonder if this is specific to the US, where population migrations and the evolution city identities might be a little more recent. About Bath–joking aside–I’ve tended to think that it has historically sat at the cross-roads between “mainland” England and the more independent and remote Celtic parts of the British Isles, making it a kind of cultural cross-roads, where metropolitan money meets Glastonbury grunge. And that this probably goes way back.

Before you think this is all hokum, a little more about the methodology:-

Using an established framework called the “Five Factor Model” they divided personality types into five broad categories: “Extraversion” (sociable, energetic, enthusiastic people); “Agreeableness” (warm, friendly, compassionate); “Conscientiousness” (dutiful, responsible, self-disciplined); “Neuroticism” (anxious, stressful, impulsive); and “Openness” (curious, intellectual, creative).

Over six years, 619,397 people from across the US took part in an online test in which they were asked to read 44 short statements, such as “I see myself as someone who is outgoing” and “I see myself as someone who is very religious”. The respondents had to mark their level of agreement with each statement on a scale of one to five.

When I’m next in the States, I’ll have to consider carefully how to plan my trip around the geographical clustering of personality traits that the study revealed. Turns out it’s not random:

“Neuroticism” was, for instance, highest in the east along a line stretching from Maine to Louisiana, and lowest in the west, suggesting that the country has an identifiable “stress belt”.

The Wall Street Journal has more here (possibly behind the subscription wall). Below is Georges Brassens. Lyrics (in French) are here, including a reference to Montcuq, which I think is now a legal requirement of the Académie Française. Loosen your ceinture a notch, crack open a bottle of red, strike up a Gauloise, kick back and enjoy.

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