Have you ever wondered why your significant other thinks and acts the way they do? We typically think the answer lies in their parents and genes, but new research points to another insightful possibility: the average temperature where they grew up.

The latest research from Columbia Business School offers compelling evidence for the role of regional ambient temperature in shaping people’s personality. Even after controlling for various factors suggested by previous research, including farming practices, migration patterns, and disease exposure, the researchers found temperature to be a key factor in how personality develops.
 

“Ambient temperature can shape the fundamental dimensions of personality,” says Jackson Lu, a PhD candidate at Columbia Business School who conducted the research alongside Columbia Professor Adam Galinsky. “Our research reveals a connection between the ambient temperature that individuals were exposed to when they were young and their personality today. This finding can help explain the personality differences we observe in people of different regions.”

Climate’s Impact on Five Key Personality Dimensions

This research, titled Regional Ambient Temperature is Associated with Human Personality and recently published in the journal Nature: Human Behaviour, defines personality as “the interactive aggregate of personal characteristics that influence an individual’s response to the environment.” The hundreds of personality traits used to describe humans largely boil down to five broad dimensions, the so-called Big Five: agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, and openness to experience.

The research suggests that a key factor determining these broad personality dimensions is how mild (i.e., clement) the ambient temperature was when individuals grew up. The sweet spot for temperature is 72 degrees F (or 22 degrees C).

“Individuals who grew up in areas where ambient temperatures were closer to this optimal level scored higher on the Big Five personality dimensions, like extraversion and openness to experience, while those in colder or hotter climates scored lower,” says Galinsky.

Large Surveys Fielded in China and the U.S.

To test the hypothesized relationship between ambient temperature and personality, the paper’s 26 authors conducted separate studies in two geographically large yet culturally distinct countries: China and the United States. In the first study, personality surveys were completed online by 5,587 university students born and raised in 59 Chinese cities. The second study conducted in the U.S. involved personality surveys completed by more than 1.6 million Americans of different ages, social classes, and education levels growing up in 12,499 zip-code areas in 8,102 cities.

The result? Temperature matters! Lu explains:

“Clement temperatures encourage individuals to explore the outside environment, where social interactions and new experiences abound. Venturing outdoors and interacting with lots of people make people more agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, extraverted, and open to new experiences. But when the temperature is too hot or too cold, individuals are less likely to go outside to meet up with friends or to try new activities.”

The association between ambient temperature and personality is particularly important in light of climate change across the globe, which could result in changes in regional human personalities over time. Of course, as Galinsky explains, the size and extent of these changes await future investigation.

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