Geographical Psychology

Geographical psychology

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Geographical psychology is considered to be an emerging research field related to psychological phenomena depending on geographical differences.

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What Is Geographical Psychology?

It refers to a field of psychology that focuses on studying how our psychology, mental health, personality, mindset, behavior, and attitudes are influenced by our geographic location. It has been observed that human psychology tends to differ based on regions, countries, states, culture, and locality. Geographical variations in social, political, economic, and climatic features affect how we think, behave 1 and respond to others. Geographical psychology studies this phenomenon to understand how we may differ based on our location and division. According to a recent 2020 study 2 , “Geographical psychology is an area of research aimed at mapping the spatial organization of psychological phenomena, identifying the mechanisms responsible for their organization, and understanding how individual characteristics, social entities, and physical features of the environment contribute to their organization.”

Understanding Geographical Psychology

The way people feel, behave and think largely depends on the geographical variations. In terms of people’s geographical and cultural characteristics, their places of living vary considerably. This means that a geographical condition 3 affects how an individual behaves and interacts with others and his/her environment. It explains how a person’s characteristics, physical features, and social entities are related to the geographical situation. It describes that personalities, human virtues, happiness, well-being, political ideologies, and personal concerns are associated with various geographic social indicators.

According to geographical psychology researchers 4 , psychological phenomena and geographical location are interlinked. The study of this research may include people across different neighborhoods, states, regions, and hemispheres. The primary aim of the study is to portray the spatial organization of psychological phenomena and identify the mechanisms responsible for their organization. Over the past few decades, researchers have been trying to detect the link between the psychological characteristics of people and the geographical features of the places they live in. Those studies are proved to be successful in paving a new way of understanding human behavior from a geographic perspective.

Read More About Environmental Psychology Here

The Connection Between Places And Personalities

“Multiple potential factors lie behind place-trait associations,” suggested Peter J. Rentfrow 5 and his colleagues. They explained the potential factors as environmental characteristics such as climate change, overcrowding, social influences, and selective migration. Rentfrow described that a specific physical environment impacts people’s minds who live there. The study has shown that people who are more open to experience and explore a new environment are likely to be more inclined to move to other places. The conclusion of the study has suggested that the geographical environment is capable of shaping personalities and human behavior and vice-versa.

Geographical psychology recognizes the importance of the environment to understand the psychological and behavioral processes. It combines numerous geographical analyses and human psychology by defining the spatial distribution of psychological phenomena. Geographical and cross-cultural psychology both are concerned with the relation between the geographical environment and psychological phenomena as the geographic perspective of understanding human psychology overlaps the cross-cultural psychology. Cross-cultural psychology 6 can be characterized by identifying the relationship between psychological phenomena and cultural practices, norms, and symbols.

It is essential to understand people’s personalities for changing the behavior towards the geographical environment. The individual characteristics of places play a key role in determining the quality of life. The interaction within the place and with other places shapes the identity, character, and people’s behavior. There are many different ways to analyze such relationships, but no single way is entirely satisfactory.

Geographical Differences In Psychological Phenomena

Studies 7 have shown that the geographical differences in psychological phenomena are vital for understanding people’s personalities and behaviors as the differences are strongly related to economic, political, social, and public health indicators. Rentfrow and Jokela 8 suggested, “Under the umbrella of geographical psychology, numerous studies have identified uneven geographical distributions in personality, individualism/collectivism, cultural tightness-looseness, subjective well-being, and other psychological phenomena across nations and regions within nations”.

1. Differences in individualism and collectivism

Individualism and collectivism 9 are considered to be one of the widest psychological dimensions related to cross-cultural differences. Individualism refers to the uniqueness of a person and collectivism is all about the relationship between a person and others. According to Vandello and Cohen 10 , the differences between individualism and collectivism occur across the states and within the nations. The study of Van de Vilert et al 11 . suggested that geographical areas with more demanding climates and lower-income showed higher collectivism scores. But geographical provinces with temperate climates and average income showed lower collectivism scores. Thus, the individualism and collectivism dimensions help in identifying the geographical differences at both national and regional levels.

2. Differences in cultural tightness and looseness

Cultural tightness and looseness refer to a complex part of the cross-cultural theory. It is considered to be the strength of external societal constraints. It includes two components, one is the strength of sanctioning, and another is the strength of social norms. Gelfand et al 12 . investigated cultural tightness and looseness across 33 nations. The study has shown that loose nations with higher population density portray weak social norms and high tolerance of deviant behavior. Tight nations with lower population density display low tolerance of deviant behavior and strong social norms.

3. Differences in personalities

Personalities differ across nations and within nations also. Alik and McCrae studied over 36 nations. This study discovered similar personality traits within geographically adjacent nations. Later another research with 56 countries found geographical personality distributions. The findings of both of the studies include:

  • Higher level of conscientiousness in Asian and African nations
  • Higher level of openness to experience in South American and European nations
  • Lower level of openness to experience in East Asian Nations
  • Lower level of anxiety and depression level in African Nations

4. Difference between subjective well-being

Oishi and Graham’s 13 research suggested that subjective well-being variations exist across nations and states. These differences result in different kinds of social and health outcomes. The subjective well-being differences found in the studies include:

  • Higher level of subjective well-being Eastern European nations
  • Lower level of subjective well-being in African and communist nations

Analyzing The Geographical And Psychological Phenomenon

Various investigations and different types of studies in multiple countries have shown that the psychological characteristics similar in particular nations and states are related to political, economic, health indicators, human behavior, and personalities, well-being, etc. The psychological traits impact largely the features of the environment, the psychological development of people, and their well-being. However, more future studies are required to identify the impact of the association between people and the geographical environment over time.

Geographical Psychology At A Glance

  1. It is a field of psychology that focuses on studying how our psychology, mental health, personality, mindset, behavior, and attitudes are influenced by our geographic location.
  2. A geographical condition affects how an individual behaves and interacts with others and his/her environment.
  3. Geographical psychology recognizes the importance of the environment to understand the psychological and behavioral processes.
  4. The geographical differences in psychological phenomena are vital for understanding people’s personalities and behaviors as the differences are strongly related to economic, political, social, and public health indicators.
👇 References:
  1. Rentfrow, P. J., & Jokela, M. (2016, December 1). Geographical psychology: The spatial organization of psychological phenomena – Peter J. Rentfrow, Markus Jokela, 2016. SAGE Journals. []
  2. Rentfrow PJ. Geographical psychology. Curr Opin Psychol. 2020 Apr;32:165-170. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.09.009. Epub 2019 Sep 28. PMID: 31675524. []
  3. Arcury, T. A., Gesler, W. M., Preisser, J. S., Sherman, J., Spencer, J., & Perin, J. (2005). The effects of geography and spatial behavior on health care utilization among the residents of a rural region. Health services research40(1), 135–155. []
  4. Oishi S. (2015). Geography and personality: why do different neighborhoods have different vibes?. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America112(3), 645–646. []
  5. Jokela, M., Bleidorn, W., Lamb, M. E., Gosling, S. D., & Rentfrow, P. J. (2015). Geographically varying associations between personality and life satisfaction in the London metropolitan area. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America112(3), 725–730. []
  6. Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. R. (2006). Cross-cultural studies of personality traits and their relevance to psychiatry. Epidemiologia e psichiatria sociale15(3), 176–184. []
  7. Chen, H., Lai, K., He, L., & Yu, R. (2020). Where You Are Is Who You Are? The Geographical Account of Psychological Phenomena. Frontiers in psychology11, 536. []
  8. Götz, F. M., Ebert, T., & Rentfrow, P. J. (2018). Regional Cultures and the Psychological Geography of Switzerland: Person-Environment-Fit in Personality Predicts Subjective Wellbeing. Frontiers in psychology9, 517. []
  9. Gorodnichenko, Y., & Roland, G. Econometrics Laboratory, UC Berkeley. []
  10. Thornhill, R., & Fincher, C. L. (2014). Collectivism–Individualism, Family Ties, and Philopatry. The Parasite-Stress Theory of Values and Sociality: Infectious Disease, History and Human Values Worldwide, 113–170. []
  11. Vu, T. V., Finkenauer, C., Huizinga, M., Novin, S., & Krabbendam, L. (2017). Do individualism and collectivism on three levels (country, individual, and situation) influence theory-of-mind efficiency? A cross-country study. PloS one12(8), e0183011. []
  12. Gelfand, M. J., Jackson, J. C., Pan, X., Nau, D., Pieper, D., Denison, E., Dagher, M., Van Lange, P., Chiu, C. Y., & Wang, M. (2021). The relationship between cultural tightness-looseness and COVID-19 cases and deaths: a global analysis. The Lancet. Planetary health5(3), e135–e144. []
  13. Medvedev, O. N., & Landhuis, C. E. (2018). Exploring constructs of well-being, happiness and quality of life. PeerJ6, e4903. []
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