That's what one study, recently published in the scientific journal Nature, concluded. The research team, made up of scientists from Peking and Columbia University here in the states, discovered that all else being equal, kids that grew up in different climates evinced very different personality traits. The conclusions, if true, can have wide implications for improving desirable traits in kids at a young age, regardless of where they're born.
The first prong of the study went like this. It started off in China, where the researchers polled about 5,500 university students in over 50 cities, both on where they grew up and also asked them questions that would tease out their personality traits. The associations between the two were staggering.
The researchers found that those uni students who grew up in areas with milder climates and less punishing temperatures scored better on the Big Five personality traits. That includes "agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, and openness to experience." As we can see, even in the same country, regional and climatic differences can have appreciable differences in personality.
Similarly, the scientists saw personality differences in people in different US regions as well. Respondents who grew up in areas with average highs in the 70s fared better in the same personality areas than those who grew up in places with average highs at 50 degrees. This is intuitive — colder temperatures can depress our moods. But does it go beyond that?
The researchers theorized that, because humans are warm-blooded, thermal control is very important to them. Not only that, but in modern times, cold temperatures can discourage going outside. We know that, for instance, interacting with nature can improve cognitive functioning. It returns our bodies to a kind of natural homeostasis.
Thermal comfort is a commonly used metric to determine overall heat comfortability. It's measured over six different factors. They include air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity, humidity, as well as personal factors like clothing insulation and metabolic heat. Growing up in a place with low temperatures can put the burden on your outfit, and all that bundling up to offset cold temps and wind chills can throw your thermal comfort out of whack.
The researchers also posited that besides being out in nature, warmer climates also were more conducive to social interactions. It's hypothesized that in warmer climates, people are less isolated and confined to their domiciles and other indoor areas. That means they have more freedom to move outside, and be with others. And, as we know, social interaction is paramount for overall mood levels.
Then again, other scientists are voicing caution. They don't want readers to assume that climate is the end all be all when it comes to building a personality ab ovo. For instance, what about Canada? Most Canadians live in average temperatures lower than most Americans do, and yet aren't scoring lower on personality tests.
In fact, Canada is listed as the sixth most happy country on Earth. It's ahead of both the United Kingdom and the United States, which have higher average temperatures year round. This is not to say that the Big Five factors are in opposition to happiness, but happiness takes into account a large swath of metrics — many of which overlap with or influence the Big Five.
Interestingly enough, bad weather — beyond just temperature — can affect your mood, with some conditions. If your mood is good, bad weather won't typically affect it. A study from 2008 found that bad weather (including temperature, but also other factors) had little to no effect on good moods, but further depressed bad ones. Which means if you grow up in a place with bad weather year round, and you're predisposed to bad moods, it might not be such a great place to live.
But again, other scientists have cautioned against putting too much store by the findings. People the world over have flourished in straitened, punishing weather regions. In fact, the study also found that some people make the best of their climate, which can foster a more eccentric personality. The study backed this up: people in colder US states like North and South Dakota were definitely more quirky and individualistic.
The study also found that people in the Shandong region of China, which features a colder climate, were more conformist. Whether that has to do with the temperatures, or with other sociopolitical causes is still uncertain. But what we do know is that the findings aren't a one-size-fits-all.
On a more somber note, the study left us with an irksome question: what about climate change? As temperatures continue to rise, will we see people become more interconnected and outgoing? Or will the temperature rise offset the weather patterns, causing colder temperatures in unexpected and unprepared places? Time will have to tell... but we can still be prepared.