Friday, September 19, 2008

Middle of the Rhode

The good news: With the fifth and final category in the University of Cambridge study ranking American states by personality traits, Rhode Island no longer occupies the lowest rungs of the personality ladder. The bad news: We won’t be selling any T-shirts for ranking 28th in the category of “openness.”

Still, if we’re looking for positives from a study that has done nothing to elevate the self-esteem of Rhode Islanders, which is already below sea level, we achieved our strongest showing for being “curious, intellectual and creative.” Here’s the cultural profile:

Liberal values are often strong in states with a high openness rating; overall, people espouse more tolerant views on marijuana, abortion and gay marriage. Artistic and investigative occupations are popular; the arts, entertainment and computer industries are often strong. People prefer jobs that involve a high degree of abstract and creative thought. Rates of robbery and murder are often high, however. Conventional value systems, such as those enforced by religion, community or even the traditional family, are less popular than in other states.

The bottom line: Rhody should rank higher in this category. From its start, Rhode Island has been a tolerant and creative state. It was liberal before conservatives even discovered the word (and how to wield it like a bazooka to detonate debate before it starts). The role played by diverse religious and ethnic communities throughout our history is well documented (some of it even seeped into the Constitution). Through the generations, people here have found ways to retain their cultural heritage while simultaneously helping to create a distinct Rhode Island identity. As for traditional family values, well, that’s as subjective as judging diving. All I know is, it took a Rhode Islander to create “Family Guy.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Survey says...

The appropriate Rhode Island response to Britain’s “Geography of Personality” study, ranking American states according to personality traits, would be our time-honored retort (and unofficial state motto): “You’re killing me.”

Yet another category that ranks Rhode Island near the dregs of the national neighborhood is “extroversion,” identifying a collective that is “sociable, energetic and enthusiastic.” Rhody nabbed the 40th spot, meaning it is only slightly more extroverted than Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, Oregon, Virginia, Idaho, Vermont, Washington, Alaska, New Hampshire and Maryland. Here’s the profile:

The strongest effect of a high extraversion rating is how much people socialize with others. Many people enjoy attending club meetings and spending time in bars. While outgoing and sociable, they are not necessarily friendly and warm – their socializing is probably more indiscriminate and not restricted to close friends. Large proportions of the population are employed in industries where social interaction is an essential aspect of working life, such as business (e.g.: sales) and healthcare (e.g.: nursing). Rates of robbery and murder are often high. People may tend to prefer in engaging in physical activities that involve other people, rather than exercising at home.

Hmm, that profile leaves Blog on the Half Shell stumped. If the strongest effect of high extraversion is socializing, wouldn’t a state that is 90 percent diner, pub, coffee shop and crowded beach rank higher? Almost everybody I know is an Elk or a Lion or a Rotarian. Some of my friends belong to the German-American Club, the Italian-American Club and the Portuguese-American Club – and they’re Irish! For night-crawlers, Providence is the biggest clubbing town in New England (even more diverse than Boston). The granges may be dead or dying, but socializing – whether with strangers or friends – is still ritualistic here. The only plausible theory is that when researchers polled Rhode Islanders on this topic, they were all at the casinos in Connecticut.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rude Island

Continuing our dip into the murky waters of scholarly research, today's entry takes a look at a third way in which a British study has determined that Little Rhody lives on the dark side of mood and personality. Rhode Island ranks 45th in the category of "agreeableness," a personality type defined by people who are "warm, friendly and compassionate."

Only six places ranked lower: Maine (Yankee cold), New York (Yankee fans), Nevada (Vegas vice), Wyoming (Cheney country), Washington, D.C. (lawyers, guns and money) and Alaska (moose for breakfast again). According to the report:

Friendliness, trust and helpfulness are the dominant characteristics of a strong A rating. Social activities that promote tight social relations, such as spending time with friends and entertaining guests at home, are popular. People are more likely to be religious and attend places of worship. Deaths due to cancer and heart disease are lower than many other states. The warm, friendly and altruistic attitude of agreeable people apparently contributes to an environment characterized by social, psychological and physical health.

Yup, that's not us. So where would one find the most agreeable Americans? The survey says...North Dakota.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rogue nature

Yesterday we noted how a British-based study determined that Rhode Island was the second-most “stressed-out” state in the U.S. Today our weeklong blog series on the report takes a look at a second category, “conscientiousness,” ranking states according to the personality traits of being “dutiful, responsible and self-disciplined.” Here, Rhode Island came in 48th, meaning only three states finished with lower scores (the District of Columbia is included in the personality map). A description of the cultural profile for states that rank high on the conscientiousness scale follows:

Individuals in these states are more likely to place importance on religion and attend places of worship. Exercising at home is popular, but life expectancy is relatively low. Entertaining and socializing with friends is less popular than in many other states. Computer scientists and mathematicians are more likely to flourish than artists and entertainers. Many people prefer systematic and focused tasks, and clearly defined rules and regulations.

If you read yesterday’s blog on “neuroticism,” you’ll note the inconsistencies. Let’s start with the premise of the conscientiousness category. If it’s true, then “entertaining and socializing with friends” would be more popular and “artists and entertainers” would be more likely to flourish in low-scoring states like Rhode Island. Except that those findings contradict yesterday’s note suggesting a high neuroticism ranking means that “people are less likely to go out or spend time with friends” and “entertainment and the arts tend not to flourish in these states.”

But a closer reading of the report reveals something else. The three states that finished lower than Rhody in the conscientiousness category were Hawaii, Maine and Alaska. Note the similarities: All are ocean states. All are iconoclastic, with strong separatist traditions and uniquely individualistic and independent state cultures. Historically, all have experienced some dislocation with mainstream America. (Maine actually split off from Massachusetts; Rhode Island was the first colony to renounce British rule and the last of the original 13 to accept American statehood; Hawaii and Alaska, the most recent states to join the club, are remote and exotic places that still prefer the totemic to the bureaucratic.) All have been havens for dissenters, free-thinkers, pirates, rogues and scandal-mongers. These are places where individual liberties are celebrated (in ways both good and bad), where “systematic and focused tasks” are considered dull and dreary and “clearly defined rules and regulations” are to be avoided whenever possible. There’s a reason we’re called The Independent State (with the highest number of registered independent voters per capita in the U.S.) But if you’re looking for more conscientiousness in your life, take a trip to New Mexico, the top-ranked state in the category.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stress Test: Grade F

A study from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. has identified Rhode Island as one of the most "stressed-out" states in the U.S. Titled "The Geography of Personality," the study attempts to determine how the personalities of Americans often differ according to the state in which they live. Rhode Islanders ranked second in the category of "neuroticism," described in the findings as "a personality trait normally associated with high levels of stress, anxiety and impulsive behavior." Here's the cultural profile, according to the report:

The impact of neuroticism is particularly strong in relation to public health. Exercise is less popular and life-expectancy lower. There is a comparatively high mortality rate due to heart disease and cancer. In states with a high-level neuroticism rating, people are less likely to go out or spend time with friends. Entertainment and the arts tend not to flourish in these states.

Strange. Those last two sentences don't seem to fit a state that is half-beach, half-bar, and crawling with artists. A place where everybody knows everybody, and anybody, even a nobody, can be somebody. (We've said it before and we'll say it again: If Kevin Bacon were a Rhode Islander, he'd only need two degrees of separation.) It has also been widely reported that there are more artists per capita in Rhode Island than any other state. (Then again, perhaps that confirms the findings. Nobody actually buys art here. If a majority of those polled were starving artists, it would explain the pessimism.)

Maybe it's a size thing. Research showed that the most stressed-out state is West Virginia. On the other hand, if you're looking for Zen and the Art of Stress-Free, Life Cycle Maintenance, the British scholars offer a simple solution: Move to Utah.