People living in former coal producing regions are more likely to have ‘negative’ personality traits

People from post-industrial areas are more likely to have neurotic personality traits, according to researchers.

The study by Cambridge University’s Department of Psychology and other institutions used data from 381,916 personality tests taken by the public between 2009 and 2011 as part of the BBC Lab’s Big Personality Test.

The test measured five traits in participants: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. These results were then sorted by region and compared with maps of coal fields.

The study found that people from former coal-producing and industrial areas scored  26% less when it came conscientiousness, which could mean they may find it more difficult to save money and less likely to set goals for themselves, according to the researchers.

“Those who live in a post-industrial landscape still do so in the shadow of coal, internally as well as externally,” said co-author of the research Dr Jason Rentfrow.

“This study is one of the first to show that the Industrial Revolution has a hidden psychological heritage, one that is imprinted on today’s psychological make-up of the regions of England and Wales .”

Miners coming off shift on the newly-installed diesel railway at Nook Colliery, Astley, Lancashire, 1948 (PA)

People from post-industrial coal areas also scored 33% higher for neuroticism, the reaction to perceived threats and stress. When researchers further delved into this personality trait, they found people in these regions also scored 31% higher for tendencies toward both anxiety and depression.

The highest ranked areas for neuroticism were Blaenau Gwent and Ceredigion in Wales, and Hartlepool.

The researchers concluded that migration and learned behaviour were most likely to be behind the regional traits at play.

They describe the idea that those moving into areas fuelled by industry did so to escape poverty and find steady work, so may already have been experiencing “psychological adversity”.

Hartlepool has one of the highest levels of neuroticism (BerndBrueggemann/Getty/PA)

Those who left industrial areas were more likely to be resilient and optimistic later on, the study found.

These migratory effects could have been made worse by the learned behaviour of often tiring, dangerous and repetitive work in industrialised occupations like coal production.

“The decline of coal in areas dependent on such industries has caused persistent economic hardship – most prominently high unemployment.

“This is only likely to have contributed to the baseline of psychological adversity the Industrial Revolution imprinted on some populations,” said Michael Stuetzer, from Baden-Wurttemberg Co-operative State University in Germany.

“These regional personality levels may have a long history, reaching back to the foundations of our industrial world, so it seems safe to assume they will continue to shape the well-being, health, and economic trajectories of these regions.”

It’s not all negative, though. The researchers said future studies could focus on the long-term positive impacts of life in these regions, such as solidarity and civic engagement from the labour movement.

The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.


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