Geographical Differences in Love

The U.S. is widely recognized for its diversity along important social indicators like race, politics, education, and religion. This overall perception of diversity, however, often reflects substantial regional variation. Indeed, clear regional differences in a variety of social, economic, and demographic factors are well-documented. There are blue states and red states, rich states and poor states, healthy states and less healthy states.

Even personality differences are regionally defined. Middle America residents tend to be more “friendly and conventional,” people in the West Coast among other regions are more likely to be “relaxed and creative” and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast tend to be populated by reserved, irritable, and uninhibited people (Rentfrow et al., 2013).

But are we also divided along lines of love and affection?

A recent study investigated whether specific geographic regions within the United States could be characterized by specific ways of approaching love and relationships in contrast to other regions (Chopik & Motyl, 2016). Are some regions populated by people with more secure and trusting orientations towards relationship than others? Are the people in some areas of the country, relative to others, more anxious when it comes to love?

Studying data gathered from over 125,000 adults from across the United States, researchers looked for differences in attachment styles by state and region. Attachment is generally viewed along two dimensions: low to high anxiety (i.e., intense preoccupation with important others; fear of rejection; hypervigilance for signs of abandonment) and low to high avoidance (i.e., distrust of others, detached independence). Here’s some of what they learned:

  1. Most Anxious States:
    North Dakota, West Virginia, New York
    By region, the mid-Atlantic and Northeast tended to be the most anxious.
     
  2. Least Anxious States
    Mississippi, Alaska, and Vermont
     
  3. Highly Avoidant States
    North Dakota, Nevada, and Kentucky
     
  4. Least Avoidant States
    Wisconsin, Utah, and Hawaii

Inter-state variability in attachment styles corresponded with a number of interesting societal patterns. For example, states high in avoidance tended to have fewer married households and more people living alone, and also less orientation towards volunteerism.

These findings correspond well with regional personality differences that suggest the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, which this study showed are high in attachment anxiety, are also relatively higher in neuroticism.

So how do we explain these differences? The authors suggest a number of considerations. Certain ecological features (e.g., mountains) or weather patterns (e.g., extreme heat or cold) could attract and keep people with certain relational-relevant orientations (e.g., preferences for isolation; independence). And thus, through selective migration, certain regions might come to be over-represented by certain attachment styles. Additionally, people seem to gravitate towards living in areas with similar others, a well-established notion. Perhaps this idea extends to include attachment orientation.

Note, of course, that state-level trends do not reveal a specific person’s attachment orientation. As the authors make clear, love can be found in North Dakota just as it can in Mississippi or Wisconsin.

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