The psychological map of Germany
Jena University researchers study regional personality traits and migration patterns
Northern Germans are thought to be standoffish and southern Germans more sociable; people in big cities are open-minded, while country dwellers are reserved. There is no lack of prejudices in relation to the inhabitants of individual regions of Germany, including comparisons between east and west. But just how true are such attributions and how do regional differences in personality arise? Economists from Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, together with psychologists from Australia, Great Britain and the USA, have now discovered that many of these stereotypes are accurate. The researchers will be presenting the results of their study in the specialist journal “Psychologische Rundschau”.
Cultural differences between regions
For their “psychological maps”, the researchers considered the expression of five different personality traits. They analysed data from more than 73,000 individuals aged between 20 and 64, who took part in an online personality study as part of the international “The Big Five Project” (http://de.outofservice.com/bigfive/). “Thanks to such large datasets, research on cultural differences between regions has made major strides in recent years, so that for the first time we can create and analyse psychological maps for Germany,” says Prof. Michael Fritsch, who does research on the topic at the University of Jena together with his colleague, associate professor Dr Michael Wyrwich. “Our work focused on what are called the Big Five. These are five personality traits that remain relatively constant in adults and that can be used to make a comprehensive description of the personality structure of an adult person,” explains Prof. Martin Obschonka of the Queensland University of Technology.
These five personality traits are: Extraversion, which is an outwardly gregarious, active and convivial attitude; Agreeableness in the sense of altruism and a readiness to cooperate; Conscientiousness, denoting organisation, careful planning and reliability; Openness to new experiences – a trait marked by a lively imagination, a thirst for knowledge, and a predilection for change; and Neuroticism (limited emotional stability), which means a tendency towards fear, nervousness and uncertainty.
Agreeable Bavarians and conscientious Mecklenburgers
If one looks at how the traits are expressed on the map of Germany, a few characteristic profiles emerge – despite a great deal of diversity – which partially confirm common stereotypes. It can be gleaned from the data, for example, that southern Germans and those living in big cities such as Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, are more open to the outside world than, say, people living on the coast. A similar disparity can be seen between eastern and western Germany, which confirms the picture of the introverted east German and the more extroverted west German. ‘Agreeableness’ is less strongly expressed in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the north-east, for example, than in south-west Germany around Freiburg, as well as in the western part of Saxony Anhalt. In contrast, people living in the Mecklenburg lake district obtain higher values for ‘conscientiousness’, for example, than inhabitants of the region around Stuttgart, the capital of the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg. In addition, people in south-west Germany are more emotionally stable on average than those in southern Thuringia in former East Germany or in the area around Bremerhaven in the north. “In the regional distribution of ‘neuroticism’ in Germany, we encountered a bisection of Germany that corresponds surprisingly clearly with the historical Limes Line – with lower values south of the Limes. In the south, people therefore demonstrate a more emotionally stable personality, which is connected with well-being and psychological resilience,” says Fritsch. The Limes Germanicus denotes a line that divided the Roman Empire and the unsubdued Germanic tribes from 83 CE to around 260 CE.
And it is also generally true that people in rural areas show less openness to new experiences than city dwellers. People shown to be particularly open were those living in Berlin and in the metropolitan areas around Hamburg and Cologne, but also in Leipzig and Dresden.
East-west differences and migration patterns
There are relatively limited differences between eastern and western Germany. However, it is shown that east Germans are on average less extrovert, less emotionally stable and less open to new experiences than west Germans.
The researchers also took a close look at migration movements. “The study shows that people born in a rural area who move to a city show clearly higher values in the area of openness than people who remain in the countryside,” says Michael Wyrwich. “In people who move in the opposite direction, from city to countryside, ‘extraversion’, ‘openness’ and ‘agreeableness’ are more strongly expressed and they are more resilient.” East Germans who move to western Germany are also more open, emotionally stable, conscientious and extroverted than east Germans who stay in their region of origin.
The study does not answer the question as to why these traits are expressed differently depending on the region. “We could possibly make a connection, for example, between lower resilience and economically weaker regions, but that does not explain which factor came first,” says Fritsch. “Nevertheless, economically relevant information can definitely be derived from the results. If, for instance, we look at the predominant personality traits in a region with especially large numbers of business start-ups, we can learn something about personality structures that are particularly marked by an entrepreneurial spirit.” The Jena researchers now want to press ahead with this type of analysis, as well as others, on the basis of their “psychological map of Germany”.
Prof. Michael Fritsch
Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the University of Jena
Carl-Zeiß-Straße 3, 07743 Jena
Tel.: +49 (0)3641 / 943230
Martin Obschonka, Michael Wyrwich, Michael Fritsch, Samuel D. Gosling, P. Jason Rentfrow, Jeff Potter: Von unterkühlten Norddeutschen, gemütlichen Süddeutschen und aufgeschlossenen Großstädtern: Regionale Persönlichkeitsunterschiede in Deutschland, Psychologische Rundschau, 2018