Does climate help shape our personality?

That phrase “sunny disposition” may have some new climate science behind it.

A new study in the journal Nature this week suggests that the climate we grew up in may help shape our personalty. The study evaluated people in the U.S. and China. It finds that all other factors being equal, people who grew up in warmer climates are more agreeable, friendlier, more open, and more outgoing.

Minnesota State Fair. Image: Paul Huttner/MPR News.

The study suggests ambient temperature where we live may be the single biggest determining factor of our personality traits. Warmer climates promote more socialization (alpha) and personal growth (beta) by making it easier for people to get outside and explore new things.

Psychological comfort optimum: 72 degrees

The study says “humans have an existential need for thermal comfort.” The paper suggests that 72 degrees is the “psychological comfort optimum” for humans. Even though people seek “social thermoregulation” in colder climates like Minnesota, it’s even easier to socialize in warmer climates.

Parley Lake Winery. Image Paul Huttner/MPR News.

Minnesota nice?

Minnesotans are known as Minnesota Nice. This study suggests we may have earned that reputation in spite of our sometimes frigid climate, and not because of it. Minnesotans may have to work harder to be more social on our often frozen tundra.

Winter scene in Victoria, Minnesota. Image Paul Huttner/MPR News.

Maybe we should get extra credit here. How about Minnesota “Super Nice?”

  • C.M. Jones

    A most intriguing post, Paul. One aspect of cold I have always cherished is that it both restrains and invigorates. Society as a whole seems subdued beneath its dominion. There’s less mischief on the streets in winter, the crime rate diminishes (at least in many locales), and the setting adopts an overall more serene constitution. At the same time, however, snow promotes conviviality among neighbors. It’s quite common to chat in groups while shoveling the white stuff or to gather with coffee or cocoa as children construct snowmen and other ice-based sculptures. That description may seem like a campy sentiment from a Norman Rockwell rendering, but it’s something I value about the frozen months. Somehow, the use of lawn mowers, which do nothing but proliferate noise and pollution, don’t have a unifying effect on the populace.

    As far as Minnesota Nice is concerned, I interpret the term largely as a euphemism for passive-aggression. Minnesota Nice is more of a subterfuge than a genuine expression of tolerance and gratitude. My wife and I lived in NYC for a few years and were initially taken aback by the candidly abrasive mode of communication New Yorkers employ. But we soon discovered that their aggressive exterior conceals an underlying candidness that can prove quite refreshing. New Yorkers place their cards on the table all at once, and at the end of the proceedings, you know precisely where you stand with them. Interacting in Minnesota, on the contrary, is often an exercise in the deciphering of smiles. There’s no way a human being — at least not one with a brain — can approve of everything, so when your every utterance is met with flippant approval, you’re left wondering what sort of impression you’ve really made. In essence, though it’s paramount that we treat each other with decorum and respect, Minnesota Nice can degrade the substance of our discussions if we execute it to the extreme.

    • Philip A. Rutter

      Well – a counter example. Around 1989, I was flying to Egypt for the climate change meeting. Stopped overnight in New York, to change airlines. Got into NY after dark (in December) – and desperately needed to find an overnight photo business that could make some last minute slides for me; right now. (Actual slides, then) Called a cab from the hotel, which was located close to nothing at all. Lady cab driver. I was intending to just pick all the brains I could run into as to where I could find the photo store I needed; and asked her. She had some good ideas, we chose one, started driving to it. (It worked out.)

      About 5 minutes into the drive, she looked up into the mirror, and said:

      “You’re not from around here, are you?”

      Amused and intrigued, I responded “No, I’m not. How could you tell?” After 5 minutes.

      “Way too nice.”

      A conversation I remember with great precision; word for word. And I remember having no coherent response to that.


      • C.M. Jones

        The gist: There are places where even Minnesotans seem exotic to the indigenous population.

  • Chris C

    You are confusing nice with agreeable, friendlier, more open, and more outgoing. I grew in in NY, lived here for 22 years. I work all over the country. Minnesotans are nicer than the rest of the country with nice being a synonym for polite. But the rest of the country is more agreeable, friendlier, more open, and more outgoing.

  • MPR Weather

    What a great discussion! Thanks to all for the great insight here. We’ll have to pick this up again on a future Climate Cast.

    I grew up in Minnesota but have lived in Chicago and Arizona. I joke that I felt like I was on vacation for 9 years in Arizona, so maybe there’s something to the reduced environmental stress of warmer climates.

    One thing people who move to Minnesota tell me is that people are nice to them here, but it’s almost impossible to break into already established Minnesota cliques. In Arizona most of us were transplants, so it was easy. I don’t pretend to have the answer key here, but there may be something to all of this.