From considering how urban design may encourage addiction, to measuring a city’s happiness, psychologists, sociologists and number-crunching big data specialists continue to study what makes cities tick — and how that ticking affects those who live there. Now, researchers have examined urban U.S. and Great Britain to determine how residents’ attitudes and entrepreneurial spirit may help cities with economic recovery.
Their study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, looked at personalities of more than one million residents in 700 cities and analyzed whether certain traits correlated to faster recovery from the recent recession. They say they were on to something. From the press release:
Cities fared better, with more businesses starting despite the recession, in places where residents displayed a more resilient personality, characterized by stronger emotional stability and entrepreneurial personality profile. This entrepreneurial profile is defined as persons scoring at the same time higher on extraversion, openness to new experiences, emotional stability, and conscientiousness, and lower on agreeableness.
“Cities seem to respond quite differently to major economic shocks in terms of their economic behavior, and the personality of a region may play a critical role,” said lead researcher Martin Obschonka, assistant professor of psychology at Saarland University in Germany. “Much research on economic resilience has focused on regional economic infrastructure, but the entrepreneurial personality and emotional stability of a city’s residents may be just as important in determining whether cities suffer or thrive during a recession.”
It wasn’t true across the board: New York and Boston, for instance, managed to bounce back despite an infamous neuroticism, according to the researchers. Here’s how they ranked U.S. cities (10 worst, 10 best) in terms of entrepreneurial spirit and emotional stability.
Rather than aiming to change a city’s personality profile, which has many contributing factors and develops over generations, Obschonka suggests that economic programs could be tailored to each city’s “traits”: “We may need to re-think the concept of regional economic resilience by considering the personality differences of cities instead of just focusing on infrastructure.”
Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.