Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Melbourne, psychologists and geography

Edited by Jill Wright,

One of the newly emerging areas of research that I'm curious about is geographical psychology, which studies the links between people's environment and their personality and feelings.

Cambridge University lecturer, Dr Peter Rentfrow has recently published a book on the topic which I'm saving up for ($US45.54 for a Kindle book is pretty steep).

My interest has been stimulated by an article in the British Psychological Society's Research Blog on research led by a Finnish psychologist, Markus Jokela, which suggests what you might call a psychology of neighbourhood ... that people may be happier when their neighbourhood suits their personality.

The study is based on data from 56,000 Londoners collected by a BBC Lab UK initiative - the Big Personality Test - which looked at correlations between different personality dimensions and life satisfaction across the metropolis.

The researchers conclude that "finding the best place to live depends on the match between individual dispositions and neighbourhood characteristics".

Significantly, they found evidence of personality clustering.

"For example, high scorers in the trait 'openness to experience' and low scorers in 'conscientiousness' and 'agreeableness' are found in abundance in central London, including Islington and Kings Cross," the report says. "High extraversion and low neuroticism is common in South West London, for example in Richmond."

It seems to make sense intuitively, although intuition is not rated all that highly in matters of research by psychologists. Melbourne, however, at least in my mind, is rich in those sorts of affinities.

It seems to me that there are distinct clusters of personality types all around the city.

One has to be careful about one's unconscious biases, but I have expectations of varying degrees of "agreeableness" in different Melbourne suburbs.

I am pretty sure that "openness to experience" was one of the reasons I moved from Toorak to St Kilda, for instance. And when I first came to Melbourne and moved in to Essendon - for which I still have great affection - there were observable differences in attitudes.

For all the gentle fun that Barry Humphries poked at Moonee Ponds, I found a lot of happiness in Puckle Street, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were fewer neurotics there, per square metre, than in most suburbs.

I wonder if the ABC ought to conduct a Big Personality Test on Melbourne? And of course, elsewhere in the nation. I think it would stimulate a great deal of worthwhile thought. Where would neurotics feel most at home, for instance? Would introverts be happier in, say, North Carlton? And is St Kilda a paradise for extroverts?

And where, of all the places to live in Melbourne, would you be more likely to find agreeable people?

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.