There's A Scientific Reason You Feel Like An Outsider Whenever You Go Back Home

by Nikhita Mahtani

I've been in New York for almost 10 years (which is crazy to think about in itself). But I'm originally from Mumbai, India... a country that's so crazily different from here in a million ways.

Now, full disclosure: I HATED NYC when I first moved here. It was too busy, too crazy and just too MUCH for me... but of course, I soon learned to embrace it all.

And it turns out that change had more to do with me than I had originally thought.

According to a paper in February's issue of Journal of Research in Personality, your personality actually changes when you move to a new place. While we often place stereotypes on certain places, it turns out those stereotypes are actually the results of one's personality changing to fit into the characteristics the city is known for.

The researchers studied the personality traits of cities in America, and found several character variations existed with regard to certain places. For example, New Yorkers tend to be more anxious and less agreeable than those from other cities, while people in the Southeast, Midwest and Utah tend to be more agreeable.

So, these studies show it's kind of all you: You adjust your personality when you live in a certain place. These changes in personality can be subtle, and I guess they also kind of serve as a sort of defense mechanism, so you're not left crying about your move to what you thought would be an exciting new city.

It also explains why you don't always feel welcome when you go back home for a visit, either.

While I love going home and honestly have the time of my life when I do, there are definitely certain things that make me feel, well, different. I don't agree with certain mannerisms, I get way too anxious when things start late (which is ALWAYS in India) and I tend to get a little too heated when conversations turn to arguments.

And that all has to do with my (now) New York personality. It is very different from the way I used to be when I was back home.

The researchers of this study found three factors that drive these regional personality differences: migration patterns, ecology and social influence.

Migration pattern can easily be explained like this: Once a place gains the reputation for being for a certain type of person – for example, New York has always been the hub of creativity, thanks to the media and theater industry – people inclined toward those types of professions move there. Since they already have a tiny bit of that personality in them, moving to the new place simply helps to bring it out.

Each personality trait has ecological benefits as well. If a place has more disease, for example, it encourages introverted personalities, simply because being too extroverted would lead to catching contagious illnesses. In that way, your biological response kicks in.

Finally, you have social influence, which is just another name for good old peer pressure. Mark Schaller, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, says social susceptibility may be one of the strongest forces in encouraging new residents to dial up some personality traits while toning down others.

So in NYC, the stress of your day-to-day might make it more socially acceptable to be anxious and worried, while in Utah, not being perfectly polite could be frowned upon. So, you obviously don't want to behave in a way that would make you stick out TOO much.

So, if you feel out of place when you bring your big city Californian personality back to Michigan, for instance, know you're not alone. It's all just science.

Citations: Your Personality Changes When You Move to a New Place (New York Magazine)