Winter is bearing down on much of the U.S. and, for most of us, with the cold weather comes sluggishness, grumpiness, and a disinclination to leave the house for much beyond going to work and procuring food.
We know, in short, that cold weather affects our mood in the short term, but does exposure to icy conditions have more lasting effects on your personality as well?
Actually yes, a new study published in Nature this week finds. All other things being equal, a child growing up in sunny California, for instance, will be more open, agreeable, and even keeled than one growing up in snowy Buffalo, the researchers demonstrated.
Less warm thermometers, less warm people
Technically speaking, the research shows that differences in the so-called Big Five personality traits in regions with different climates can't be explained by other factors. People who grew up in places where the average temperature was closer to a comfortable 74 degrees were, on average, more agreeable, more open, and less neurotic, they found.
Why would balmy temperatures affect kids' personalities? "Growing up in temperatures that are close to the psychophysiological comfort optimum encourages individuals to explore the outside environment, thereby influencing their personalities," explain the researchers.
Or, in other words, it's easy to go out and play with your friends in San Diego than Detroit, and that affects how your personality develops.
Check your stereotypes
Some people will meet these results with an 'I told you so.' After all, the findings match up with plenty of popular regional stereotypes, like chilly New York not being the sweetest, for example. But commentators caution that there are also plenty of examples of pop culture types that run counter to this simple framework.
"While Canadians live in a colder climate, they generally are not less 'nice' than Americans," Antonio Terracciano, a professor of geriatrics at Florida State University, pointed out to the Washington Post, for instance. It's extremely hard to argue with that.
The essential point here is that these results deal in averages across populations and shouldn't be seen to reflect any one particular individual or subset of people. Plus, in an additional complicating factor, other research has shown that our attitude towards the weather also affects how it impacts us.
Hardy Norwegians, for example, rarely get seasonal depression despite living in the extreme north. Scientists believe that's because Norwegian culture views winter not as an a nasty period to get through by cocooning yourself at home, but as an exciting opportunity for winter sports and enjoying the coziness and beauty of the season. If you see snow and run to strap on your skis and call your friends, it's unlikely that the weather will affect you in the same way it would if you groaned in misery at the first flake. Attitude matters.
So don't let your stereotypes run wild, but on a broader level, it's fun to know that whether you grew up among palm trees or blizzards probably left it's mark on your personality