Blaise Tapp: No simple way to link character and place

BBC Radio 4's agenda-setting Today programme.
BBC Radio 4's agenda-setting Today programme.
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The maddest person I ever met was a man from Devon – as crazy as a clotted cream sandwich but I have also come across quite a few dullards from Cornwall.

Some of the friendliest folk I have encountered were born within striking distance of the Bow Bells but I have had the misfortune of having dealings with a po-faced so and so from Putney.

Huge characters from Manchester, shy lasses from Stockport,egotists from Cardiff and wallflowers from Wrexham – I have met the lot and the one thing I can tell you is that you cannot define anybody’s character simply by where they come from.

The popular stereotypes that Yorkshiremen are as mean as church mice or that Scousers are all comedians are perhaps not trotted out as much as they were in the un-PC days of the 1980s but they still exist.

Most sensible people, not those who would still like Jeremy Clarkson to be Prime Minister, understand that nobody can seriously blame their idiosyncrasies on where they were born or brought up.

That was until the latest, ‘most comprehensive’ social study yet which was billed as irrefutable proof that geography is one of the key influences of our personalities. It was even deemed worthy enough of a prime spot on BBC Radio 4’s agenda setting Today programme, giving it a veneer of intellectual credibility.

We were told that the findings were compiled after 400,000 people took part in an online quiz where they were asked to answer questions about themselves which covered whether or not they were extroverts, if they were agreeable, conscientious, neurotic and open. Asking people to answer questions about themselves as they stumble home from the pub, in between sending a drunken message to an old flame and checking to see if anybody has liked their Facebook status, is hardly a rigorous study. Even if respondents were not half cut at the time of taking part, how many people truly know themselves or are self-aware enough to have recorded useful answers.

Far brighter people than I who have poured over the results insist that people with similar personality traits are attracted to certain places – on the basis that they satisfy their psychological needs. This is clearly nonsense because if this were the case I would be living in Disneyland next door to the world’s largest Greggs.

I understand the desire to attempt to discover if there are common traits which set Lancastrians apart from their Mercedes driving neighbours in Cheshire because the very nature of human beings is to push our levels of discovery. But to suggest there are more extroverts in Nottingham or Leicester than there are in Leeds is delving into the realms of fantasy.

Rather than chase the impossible we would do well to celebrate the fact we are all different.