Illustration by MIKE RICE •,

A state-by-state study of personality shows Wisconsin beats Minnesota in extroversion

  • Article by: Bill Ward
  • Star Tribune
  • November 20, 2013 - 2:27 PM

We Minnesotans tend to think of ourselves as thoughtful, thorough and reserved.

Perhaps we need to think again.

Compared with the denizens of other states, we’re right in the middle of the pack in terms of being outgoing. What’s more surprising is that our neighbors to the east are not only much more gregarious than us, they’re more gregarious than anybody else in the nation.

You read that right.

At least according to a study of the personality traits of 1.6 million Americans led by a multinational team of researchers.

The 13-year study, which included 38,597 Minnesotans, found that Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s overall moods align closely in almost every category — including low rankings for “openness” and high marks for being “agreeable.” But those ever-sociable Cheeseheads ranked No. 1 nationally in “extroversion.” Minnesota ranked 21st.

We would call that interesting.

Tom Gillaspy had a different word for it.

“I find it very curious that people from Wisconsin would be considered more extroverted than even Californians,” said Gillaspy, who spent decades studying people as Minnesota’s state demographer.

Gillaspy also found it “strange” that Minnesota landed near the national average in conscientiousness and extroversion, “because we’re not that extroverted, and I’m not totally sure why we we’re so low in conscientiousness, given our voting patterns among other things.”

Regional similarities

The results of the study, which measured five common personality types, divided the nation into three large areas: the “friendly and conventional” Midwest and South, the “relaxed and creative” West and Sunbelt and the “temperamental and uninhibited” New England and mid-Atlantic states, according to Jason Rentfrow, who oversaw the state-by-state study.

“The fact that neighboring states had such similar personalities was very surprising,” Rentfrow, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Cambridge, said via e-mail. “We were driven entirely by the personality data and didn’t have strong ideas about how the psychological regions would be distributed geographically. But the grouping of states in terms of their personalities was really quite striking.”

But that doesn’t mean that the states in one region are carbon copies.

In addition to the vastly different ranking in extroversion for Minnesota and Wisconsin, Rentfrow noted that a few other states showed wide divides on certain traits. “Residents of Massachusetts appear to be higher in neuroticism compared to residents of Connecticut,” he said.

And Rentfrow’s survey cohort, University of Texas psychology professor Samuel D. Gosling, found a surprising affinity between areas that are rarely, if ever, lumped together.

“I wasn’t too surprised by how Texas fared in terms of overall scores because the state is somewhat unusual in having several large cities, but also a very large rural population,” Gosling said. “What did surprise me was how it clustered with the Northeast coast states psychologically, despite being so geographically distant.”

Agreeable, but not open

Minnesota’s strongest category was agreeableness, in which we ranked sixth overall. On the other hand, the study showed that “Minnesota nice” only goes so far: We’re toward the bottom (44th) in openness.

That doesn’t surprise one observer of our state’s character.

“Being ‘open’ and being ‘agreeable’ don’t necessarily correlate,” said Caleb McEwen, artistic director at Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre, which often lovingly lampoons Minnesotans. “If you don’t believe this, think of how many ‘friends’ you no longer speak to after they posted their political views on Facebook during the last election.”

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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