Men Vary More Than Women in Personality

March 11, 2013
I was going to illustrate this post with a variety of men, but everyone was so ugly I chose actress Juliet Landau instead.

I was going to illustrate this post with a variety of men, but everyone was so ugly I chose actress Juliet Landau instead.

It’s well known that men and women differ on some personality traits, most notably neuroticism, when averages are compared. But another way to compare the sexes is by looking at how much men and women vary within their groups. In a new study, psychologists Peter Borkenau, Robert McCrae and Antonio Terracciano have done just that. Using data from 51 cultures with more than 12K participants they have looked at observer ratings of someone each participant knew well. Using a measure of the Big Five, they found that men were generally rated with more variation than women on all traits except neuroticism, which was slightly more varied for women. They also found that women rate people with more variance than men.

Why Would Men Be More Varied?

One possible explanation for this could be evolutionary. While women have a high parental investment, their reproductive success has depended on physical health and social skills. Men have had more ways to be reproductively successful – the can be hunters or gatherers, leaders, highly organized, manipulative etc. Since all of these strategies relate to personality this would mean that more variation in traits would be selected for among men than women.

A case could also be made for gender roles influencing variance – men are simply allowed a broader range of behaviors than women. This is one of those nature/nurture questions – do social norms form behavior or does behavior form the norms? One way to settle this question (in this instance) would be to look at variation in behavior that violates social norms. This can be easily found in personality disorders, conditions that constitute extreme and maladaptive personalities. These are much more common among men than women, and a big reason why the prison population is made up to 90-95 percent by men. Their behavior is extreme and unacceptable, contradicting the idea that social norms can explain the variance. So more likely, this is a product of evolution. This of course all depends on if you view personality disorders as extreme variants of normal personality or not, but both behavioral and genetic links between the two suggest that they are.

Why Do Women Give More Varied Ratings?

This may relate to the fact that women varied more on neuroticism, a trait relating to social interactions. It may be that their social skills – observation of others no doubt being a crucial part of these skills – make them more accurate judgers of personality. The authors refer to other research that has reached this conclusion. Which makes me wonder: if women are better judges of character, why aren’t they the preferred choice of raters in personality research? It’s also interesting to note how few women there are in this field given that they are superior to men in this very fundamental aspect.

Is Male Variation a Good Thing?

Given what I just said about the prison population, it’s far from certain that this male variation in personality is a good thing, neither for the individual nor for society.  After all, evolution is not adaptive in the short term; there are plenty of examples of how our evolutionary nature collides with the modern environment, obesity being the most obvious. That said, crime is far from the only aspect of this variation. According to the study it concerns four of five basic factors of personality. Luckily the study included some social variables. Here is what they found,

The sex differences in variability in personality were more pronounced in the more developed, more gender-egalitarian, and more individualistic societies.

This suggests that male variation is a good thing. One explanation could be that nations compete with ideas. And variety in personality means a variety in how people in a country think, which makes for a variety of ideas that in turn translates to wealth. This variation largely coincides with IQ measure of different countries so it’s a little hard tell exactly how much of the wealth is due to intelligence and how much is due to variety.

Why Do Countries Vary in Variety?

This is probably something those Human Biodiversity buffs might have an answer to. It seems likely that inbreeding would reduce variance as well as intelligence. In line with this idea, Muslim countries (known for very high levels of inbreeding and low IQs) had on the average a lower level of male variance  and those who were above average were very close to it. Some countries break this pattern by showing little male variance but high IQ levels, most notably Hong Kong and Japan. But overall, variety seems to be of great importance. This is a field of research that is still pretty new so it will be interesting to see where it leads. No doubt some traits will be more important than others, and some of these may not be captured in the Big Five model. Honesty/humility and sensation seeking come to mind. And different combinations of traits might also be important. I’ll get back to this if I find something interesting in the numbers.

 


72 Is Not Going to Be the New 30 for Honey Boo Boo – A Few Thoughts on National Character, Health, and Longevity

October 22, 2012

30 might just feel little bit like 72 for this girl…

Under the headline “Modern humans found to be fittest ever at survival, by far” Los Angeles Times recently featured an article about a study from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, on the increase in life expectancy,

A typical Swede, for instance, is more than 100 times more likely to survive to the age 15 than a typical hunter-gatherer. And a hunter-gatherer who has reached the ripe old age of 30 is about as likely to die in the following year as the world’s champion of longevity — a 72-year-old woman in Japan.

But are Swedes and the Japanese really representative of all modern humans, or even of populations in the developed countries? I think it’s safe to say that these two people are known to have certain traits, national characters, that set them apart. Hardly anyone would argue with the claim that they are less impulsive than the average.

Research on national characters – the specific collective personality traits that distinguish on nationality from another – has proven difficult. A large study by Terracciano back in 2005 found that the national characters don’t accord with mean levels of personality traits. So is this idea just in our heads, that say the Chinese are more introverted than Americans?

Most likely not, since all research into stereotypes so far tends to find a kernel of truth in them – Jews as a group make more money, African Americans as a group are more violent etc. But personality research is almost exclusively done with self-report questionnaires. When people answer question about their own personality they relate it to other people in their own country. This means that differences between countries can be due to other factors like how socially desirable a trait is in that country or how prone a certain people are to self-enhancement, portraying themselves as better than they are. Studies have found that East Asians are not as prone to this as Westerners which could explain why Americans for instance measure higher than the Japanese on conscientiousness.

Some psychologists have tried to get around this problem by looking at how personality traits are expressed in different cultures, or to use ethos in the form of institutions that embody ideals that are typical of certain traits. But that’s all very problematic since it involves measuring the same thing in different and indirect ways.

A better way to do this (which at least I haven’t read about) is to measure actual behavior related to personality traits. Because there are traits that have universal behavioral outcomes.  Take impulsivity for instance. This trait predicts drug abuse, violent crime, traffic accidents etc in all parts of the developed world.  So if these outcomes differ according to stereotypical notions of national characters then we have some evidence that these do reflect actual personality differences between nations.

Since I haven’t come across any such research I decided to dabble a little myself, just to see if there might be anything to this. I took two measures – adult lifetime use of cannabis, and road fatalities – and combined them into a composite measure of impulsivity. The countries included are mainly those commonly thought of as impulsive, New Zealand, USA, Australia, and Denmark. I contrasted these against the two nationalities mentioned in the article, those of Sweden and Japan. So here is what I found.

Adult lifetime use of cannabis according to Wikipedia/EMCDDA: Stereotypically impulsive nations like USA 42.4 percent, New Zealand 41.9 percent , Denmark 36.5 percent, and Australia 33.5 percent. As a contrast Sweden has 12 percent and Japan a mere 1.5 percent.

Road fatalities per 100K inhabitants and year according to Wikipedia/WHO: Again looking at the stereotypically impulsive nations we have, Australia 5.7, New Zealand 8.6, USA  12.3,  Denmark 7.4,  whereas Sweden has 2.9 and Japan 3.85.

If we combine these percentages to a composite measure of impulsivity by adjusting so both measures have the same average, we find the following order with life expectancy in the second column,

USA                       50           78.2

Australia               56           81.2

New Zealand        77           80.2

Denmark               67           78.3

Sweden                 24           80.9

Japan                    17           82.7

This gives us a clear indication that nations thought of as impulsive actually have more outcomes that are known to correlate with impulsivity on the individual level. Their average level is 62.5, which is 3 times the average of Japan and Sweden combined. It’s especially striking to see the big difference between the neighbors  Denmark and Sweden that are very similar in many other ways.  And this measure of impulsivity also correlates  -0.6 to life expectancy which is quite respectable.

…but not for this one.

Although it’s not a scientific study, I believe this little exercise clearly raises the question of whether any developed country can be taken as a measure of how technological progress translates to longer life expectancies in general. It suggest that this is not the case, and that differences in personality traits between countries, often referred to as national characters are in fact real, and affect health and longevity in the same way as they do on the individual level.


Big Cities Are Not So Big Anymore Says Recent Gallup

October 9, 2012

Eagle Mountain, Utah. This, according to a recent survey by Gallup, is the place to be.

All the experts seem to agree: large cities are smarter, sexier, and definitely more productive than small cities, and much more so than rural areas where ignorant and bigoted people chew tobacco, have sex with their relatives and play the banjo. The reason why big cities are more productive is thought to be that they create more business interaction and competition. They also attract more intelligent people with their schools and universities. On top of this they provide diversity and all the cultural attractions that come with that making them the clearly best places to live. Right? Maybe not.

Gallup recently indexed different states in America after according to their future livability. And the result shows that rural states rock. All the top five, Utah, Minnesota, Colorado, Nebraska, and North Dakota are what you’d have to call rural. Largest city is Denver with just above 600K inhabitants. The states with the 10 biggest cities are not one of them in the top ten in livability. Not a single one.

So how can this be? I imagine a lot of the big city hype is just hype. Businesses compete and interact with each other all over the world these days so the geographical location means less than it may have done before the internet. While intelligent people go to university they don’t necessarily stay. And large cities attract other, less intelligent people too. Like criminals.

Large cities create diversity for sure, but that’s not always a good thing. When different social, ethnic, and religious groups live close together you don’t merely have a good exchange but also conflicts, violence, and riots. And in a small community there is probably more social support than in the city where people are coming and going and in doing so becoming strangers to each other.

This is not to say that rural areas are inherently attractive to live in. The bottom five states on the Gallup list are in fact rural – Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Nevada (well semi-rural),  and Arkansas.  So being rural or small town does not guarantee a state a high livability. Maybe it’s just a necessary but not sufficient condition?

If we compare the top and bottom five we can see some obvious differences. Besides all being rural the top five are on the average much less densely populated, the have less diversity and they have more people of European ancestry. The latter relates to the economy because it’s obvious that ethnic groups differ in how financially successful they are.  Black people make the least money so that kind of diversity will affect the economy more than say that of California which is based more on Asians, Hispanics, and Jews. That said, California (containing three of Americas ten biggest cities) is only average on the list so their nonblack diversity is no hit either.

It’s also a fact that the top five have a significantly cooler climate than the bottom five. Not sure how that would affect things, maybe less flooding and hurricanes?

But whatever the reasons, it seems the big cities aren’t so big anymore. What do you think makes a community a good place to live in?


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