TIME psychology

In China, Personality Could Come Down to Rice Versus Wheat

Rice farming in China
Chinese from rice-producing regions tend to be more collectivist Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images

Chinese in the north have always been different than their counterparts in the south of the country. Farming could explain why

In the mind of many Americans, China is a monolith of 1.3 billion people, all equally similar to each other and all equally different from the U.S. But Thomas Talhelm knows better. Talhelm first went to China in 2007, working as a high-school English teacher in the booming southern metropolis of Guangzhou. Observant from the start—he’s now a PhD candidate in psychology at the University of Virginia—Talhelm noticed that his students tended to be very conflict averse. But when Talhelm moved after a year to Beijing in China’s north, he noticed a difference. “On one of my first visits to a museum, a curator pointed to my roommate and told him, ‘Your Chinese is good,'” says Talhelm. “But then she pointed to me and said, ‘But your Chinese is much better.'” People in Beijing were much blunter, Talhelm noticed.

He found differences in dialect as well, and the dividing line was the Yangtze River, which divides China’s north and south. Above the Yangtze one word meant “hand,” for instance, while south of the river it meant “arm.” By no means were these regional traits true 100% of the time—there were northerners who were conflict averse and southerners who were outrageously brash. But the differences seemed common enough to Talhelm that they were worth exploring.

As it turns out, the Yangtze doesn’t just divide China between the north and the south—it also marks the rough boundary between the chiefly rice-producing regions below the river and the mainly wheat-producing regions above it. That gave Talhelm an idea. Rice production is extremely labor-intensive, requiring about twice the number of hours from planting to harvest that wheat does. Rice is also mostly grown on irrigated land, which requires communities to build canals and dikes cooperatively, while sharing water. “Rice farming provides an economic incentive to be cooperative,” says Talhelm. By contrast, the only thing wheat farmers need to cooperate with is the rain, which allows them a greater measure of independence.

That is how Talhelm came up with what he calls his “rice theory”: personality differences between China’s north and its south could be explained at least in part by the kind of farming practiced in each region. And in a new paper published in today’s Science, Talhelm puts the rice theory to a successful test. Talhelm and his colleagues conducted psychological studies on 1,162 Chinese college students in the north and in the south, as well as on countries that straddle the borders of the rice-wheat divide. The northern Chinese tested as more individualistic and analytic—similar to Westerners—while southerners were more interdependent, holistic-thinking and more loyal to their friends. (Analytic thinkers prefer to use abstract categories, while holistic thinkers focus on relationships.) “The differences fell along that rice-wheat border,” says Talhelm.

There have been earlier attempts to explain the psychological differences within China. The modernization hypothesis argues that as societies become wealthier and more capitalistic, they become more individualistic and analytic. But that’s not the case in China, or indeed much of East Asia—southern Chinese cities like Guangzhou experienced economic liberalization sooner than northern cities, and are still much richer, yet it’s northerners who remain more independent. The pathogen prevalence theory argues that a high prevalence of communicable disease in some areas makes it more difficult to deal with strangers, which in turn can make a region more insular and collectivistic. Infectious disease tends to be correlated with warmer temperatures, and China’s south is warmer than it’s north—so it’s possible the pathogen prevalence theory could explain China’s psychological differences. But Talhelm’s study found that Chinese students who lived just south or just north of the rice-wheat divide were as different from each other as students from the far south and the far north. And he noted rice-producing Japan scores uniformly high on the collectivist scale, even though the country is cooler and wealthier than most of China.

The rice theory isn’t foolproof. It’s almost certain that none of the young Chinese college students participating in Talhelm’s study have any direct experience with wheat or rice farming, which raises the question of how these psychological values are transmitted. The sheer pace of change in modern China, which has transformed from a closed communist country to a global capitalist powerhouse in a single generation, can make it difficult to be certain of any larger conclusions about the society. And as different as northern and southern Chinese can seem, they’re still more similar to each other on the individualistic/interdependent spectrum than China as a whole is to the West. The real test of the rice theory will come outside Asia—Talhelm plans to look at West Africa next, which has a vibrant rice-growing tradition.

There’s also something slightly uncomfortable about using agricultural practices to stereotype several hundred million people. Surely we’re more than what our ancestors chose to plant in the ground. But Talhelm notes that in China, regional psychological differences are taken for granted. “A Chinese word for ‘northerner’ literally means ‘direct’ or ‘brash,'” he says. “They’ve just never thought it could be due to rice or wheat.”

TIME psychology

How to Be Cool: 5 Research-Backed Tips

Who Hasn’t Wanted To Be Cool?

We’ve all wanted to be cool. But research shows that it’s not merely a shallow desire. Cool makes a difference in life.

For instance, charismatic leaders bring out people’s best.

Via The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism:

If you’re a leader, or aspire to be one, charisma matters. It gives you a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the very best talent. It makes people want to work with you, your team, and your company. Research shows that those following charismatic leaders perform better, experience their work as more meaningful, and have more trust in their leaders than those following effective but noncharismatic leaders.

But can we become more cool if we try?

Yes. Fake it until you make it works.

As Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, explains, attitude can be taught and improved:

The most commonly held myth that I encountered when first doing this research was that charisma is an innate quality, that some people have it and some people don’t and whatever you’re born with you’re stuck with. In fact, charisma’s a quality that fluctuates. It’ll be there one moment and gone the next. It’s also a very learnable quality. So, a lot of people who are known today as some of the most charismatic people actually learned charisma step by step.

So what is cool and how can we embody it?

1) Less

If I had to sum up cool in a word it would be: less.

Cool doesn’t try too hard. Thing is, trying is very effective in life and especially in relationships. So what gives?

By not trying, cool people signal, “I’m so smooth, I don’t have to try to get what I want.”

As Olivia Fox-Cabane points out: James Bond doesn’t plead, smile or fidget. He speaks slowly and calmly.

Via The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism:

Can you imagine James Bond fidgeting? How about tugging at his clothing, bobbing his head, or twitching his shoulders? How about hemming and hawing before he speaks? Of course not. Bond is the quintessential cool, calm, and collected character…

This kind of high-status, high-confidence body language is characterized by how few movements are made. Composed people exhibit a level of stillness, which is sometimes described as poise. They avoid extraneous, superfluous gestures such as fidgeting with their clothes, their hair, or their faces, incessantly nodding their heads, or saying “um” before sentences.

(More on the science behind why James Bond is so sexy here.)

2) Confidence

Want to know a quick trick for getting people to like you? Assume they already do.

Yes, we all love confidence. Combine doing less with supreme confidence and you have the essence of cool.

Researchers gave people a course in charisma and one of the factors that produced results was acting confident.

It’s no surprise, but research shows self-esteem is sexy and looking stressed is not. For men, modesty can actually be a negative:

‘Modest men were not liked as much as modest women because they were viewed as ‘too weak’ for a man and because they were viewed as insufficiently confident and ambitious,’ the U.S. researchers wrote.

(More on how to increase confidence here.)

3) Know The Rules — And Break Them

People who are cool aren’t oblivious to proper behavior, in fact, they’re socially savvy.

But they deliberately break the rules when it benefits them.

In the paper “Coolness: An Empirical Investigation” rebelliousness was found to be a key component of cool:

The second factor, which explained a more modest amount of the variance, was comprised of five elements each rated as more cool than socially desirable. The elements of factor 2 either did not load on factor 1(e.g.,irony) or loaded in the opposite direction (e.g.,emotional control). Rebelliousness had the highest loading, and is arguably its most central theoretical element. This second factor better embodies the core construct identified as cool in the scholarly literature (Frank, 1997; Heath & Potter, 2004; Pountain & Robins, 2000). This factor presents coolness as more opaque, less active, and less engaged: coolness as detachment and camouflage. We termed this factor Contrarian coolness.

Why is rule breaking cool? Breaking the rules makes you appear powerful.

(More on how to appear powerful here.)

4) Focus On Attitude And Body Language Will Follow

Are my hands fidgeting? Am I biting my lip? Am I nodding too much? Is my speech slow enough? …That’s enough to drive you insane.

As Fox-Cabane explains, there’s no way to monitor and optimize what every part of your body is doing. It’s just too much:

In every minute we have hundreds of thousands of body language signals that are pouring out from us and broadcasting how we’re feeling and thinking to everyone around…

So how do we make our body language more cool? By feeling cool on the inside, our body language will reflect that:

The same way that athletes get themselves “into the zone” you get yourself into a mental zone of whatever body language you want to emanate. And that way it will cascade through your body from whatever mindset that you wanted to get. So it really is mind over matter in the sense that whatever’s in your mind will come out through your body language.

(More on how to read people’s body language here.)

5) Cool Isn’t Always The Coolest

Being cool may be a positive but don’t assume it’s the best attitude for all situations. There is no single perfect way to be.

Being distant creates intrigue but the power of showing interest in others has been scientifically validated over and over again.

Sometimes being an outright jerk pays big dividends. Ironically, so does vulnerability.

While seeming detached and calm has its benefits, so does being very enthusiastic.

Via The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are:

Students exposed to Ceci’s enthusiastic presentations were much more positive about both the instructor and the course— even though everything else was identical. They perceived him as more enthusiastic and knowledgeable, more tolerant of others’ views, more accessible to students, and more organized.

(More on when nice guys finish first — or last — here.)

Sum Up

Let’s round it all up:

  1. Less
  2. Be Confident
  3. Know The Rules And Break Them
  4. Focus On Attitude And Body Language Will Follow
  5. Cool Isn’t Always The Coolest.

Now get out there and be cool… but don’t try too hard.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Food & Drink

Here’s What Your Favorite Coffee Drink Says About Your Personality

If you're a cappuccino drinker, you're probably creative, and if you take your coffee black, you're likely very straightforward

Sure, almost everybody likes coffee, but apparently how you like your coffee can reveal quite a bit about your personality. Coffee-crazed blogger Ryoko of I Love Coffee took the results from a recent study about the habits of coffee drinkers and put them into this infographic. It highlights the differences between those who opt for a simple black cup of joe versus those who spring for something a bit fancier.

These results might not be true for everyone, we know, so we recommend taking this with a grain of salt (or, uh, sugar.)

coffee_personality

 

TIME Diet & Fitness

What Your Personality Says About Your Weight

Whether you're the life of the party, a bookworm, or a night owl plays a surprisingly large role in your ability to slim down

Whether you’re the life of the party, a bookworm, or a night owl, your personality plays a surprisingly large role in your ability to slim down. Follow this guide to discover your personality type and use your own characteristics to lose weight and keep it off for good.

If you’re self-centered…

Being a little stuck on yourself may not be such a bad thing when trying to lose weight. “Self-centered people tend to consider their own interests, which could lead them to better conserve their energy and have more willpower to make healthy choices,” says says Heidi Hanna, PhD, performance coach and author of The Sharp Solution: A Brain-Based Approach for Optimal Performance. People-pleasers, on the other hand, may get overly stressed about helping everyone else and find themselves depleted at the end of the day. This often triggers poor food choices, says Hanna. Instead, practice being more “selfish” in asking for what you want and sticking to it without feeling guilty. Meet friends after your workout instead of canceling your exercise plans, or ask them to join you.

If you’re the life of the party…

Outgoing people tend to allow stress to accumulate to the point that’s known as “amygdala hijack,” says Hanna. This is where we utilize the more basic, primitive part of our brain versus our more human pre-frontal cortex. “The latter allows us to consider our longer-term goals and make healthier choices,” says Hanna. This pleasure-based eating has been shown to trigger an addictive response that often leads to overeating high-calorie, high-fat comfort foods. “If you enjoy being the center of attention, try putting yourself in social situations that don’t involve food,” suggests suggests Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas.

Health.com: 14 Ways to Cut Portions Without Feeling Hungry
If you’re impulsive…

In a famous 1972 study, scientists offered young children a choice between a single marshmallow immediately or, if they could wait 15 minutes, two marshmallows. Those who waited went onto experience more success and higher SAT scores later on in life. The ability to delay gratification also relates to weight loss, says Markman. “People tend to be either a ‘one-marshmallow person’ or a ‘two-marshmallow person.'” If you’re struggling with weight loss, you are more likely a one-marshmallow person. Eliminating little temptations will help: stop stocking your pantry with junk food, and avoid the break room at work when you know there will be leftover treats.

If you’re reliable…

Always on time? Follow rules by the book? It means you’re conscientious, a trait that makes it easier to stick with an eating or fitness plan, says Markman. However, whether you’re conscientious or not, there’s a paradox in that creating a plan forces you to think about food all the time, which can work against you. The solution: create routines not specifically about dropping pounds that will still lead to weight loss, he suggests. For example, instead of driving your kids the mile to school, start walking with them.

If you’re prone to mood swings…

The way you ride life’s rollercoaster determines your emotional stability. “If you’re emotionally excitable, things are either very good or the worst ever,” says Markman. Some people are emotional eaters, so the more you’re on the emotional rollercoaster the more likely you are to reach for food. “The more excited you are in general, the more likely you are to take action, and eating is an action,” says Markman. Learn to recognize your own ups and downs and try to take action in healthier ways, like calling a friend or sweating your stress away with a workout.

Health.com: 20 Snacks That Burn Fat
If you’re quiet…

People who prefer curling up with a book over a night out at the bar may have a leg up on weight loss. “Introverts may have a more thoughtful, less impulsive style that enables them to consider their choices more rationally,” says Hanna. Introverts are more likely to possess qualities that enable them to commit to a healthy diet and regular exercise routine, both of which require restraint, difficult for more impulsive people, she says. Extroverts should plan ahead for situations that test willpower. If you know you’re headed to a party, for instance, eat a healthy snack beforehand so you’ll be less likely to scarf down junk.

If you’re often hard on yourself…

“People who lack self-compassion have a huge negative reaction every time they make a mistake,” says Markman. “Those high in self-compassion simply move on and vow to not make the same mistake again.” If you’re hard on yourself, you’re more likely to continue overeating after you’re slipped up, since realizing you’ve overeaten leads to feelings of hopelessness. “If you’re not self-compassionate by nature, you need to work on forgiving yourself,” says Markman.

If you’re a night owl…

Staying up until the wee hours may wreak havoc with your waistline. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who were kept up until 4 a.m. ate 550 additional calories during their late night hours. What’s more, a higher percentage of the late-night calories came from high-fat foods than they did during daytime hours.

Health.com: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss
If you’re an early bird…

In an Australian study, participants who woke up early were less likely to be overweight than night owls—even though both groups slept the same number of hours. Although this study involved young children, the results are likely applicable to adults as well, says Allen Towfigh, MD, sleep specialist and neurologist affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. “If you love to sleep in, you may not be getting enough sleep, in which case you need to go to bed earlier to increase your total sleep time.” Dr. Towfigh recommends adults strive for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Health.com: 16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast
If you’re easygoing…

People who go with the flow tend to be leaner than those who are more neurotic, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In some cases, however, this may backfire, says Markman. “Highly agreeable people may stress over failure because they’re afraid of letting other people down. This stress can actually get in the way of successful weight loss, because stress makes it harder to resist temptation.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME psychology

Yes, Chris Christie’s a Narcissist

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during his 100th town-hall meeting, held at St. Mary's Parish Center in Manahawkin, N.J., on Jan. 16, 2013 D Dipasupil / Getty Images for Extra

The guv loves himself — and that could be a big problem for his state and his future

No one knows exactly how Chris Christie spent every hour of the four days in September when the people of Fort Lee, N.J., were being punked by members of his staff who decided that it might be fun to toss traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge and see what happened. It’s certain the governor wasn’t sitting in any of the all-day traffic jams the stunt caused. It’s certain he wasn’t fretting at home while his kids tried to get to their first day of school or waiting for emergency medical care that couldn’t get through the manufactured gridlock.

But Chris Christie suffered all the same. And if you don’t believe him, ask Chris Christie.

“I am a very sad person today,” he said at his marathon press conference last week. “That’s the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me … I probably will get angry at some point, but I’ll tell you the truth, I’m sad.”

But sad was only part of it. Christie was tired too, since, as he took pains to mention, he’d had very little sleep the night before. He was also “blindsided and “humiliated” and found it “incredibly disappointing to have people let [him] down this way.” So all told, the governor had a very tough week, thank you very much.

(MORE: Bunnies, Stinkbugs and Maggots: The Secrets of Empathy)

If you got the sense that Christie has seen the unfolding mess mostly in terms of how it affects, you know, Christie, you’d be justified. Google the words Christie and narcissist and you get 3.3 million hits. Salon calls his press conference “a mix of narcissism and bullying.” New York magazine writes of “The narcissistic drama of Chris Christie’s apology.” In a Washington Post piece, “New Jersey narcissist,” Dana Milbank actually counts the number of first-person references Christie made in his endless presser: I led the field with 692 repetitions; me, my and myself were next at a combined 217; I’m clocked in at 119; and I’ve was last at a still-impressive 67. So, a lot of verbal selfies.

But it’s not language alone that makes Christie the narcissist he is. It’s not his loudness and largeness or personality either, nor is it his history of bullying or his disdainful impatience with those he appears to think of as his lessers — though all of those things are certainly part of the narcissistic profile. I’ve spent the past two years deep in the literature of narcissism for a just-completed book, and if there’s a sine qua non that turns up again and again in the personality of the narcissist, it’s a wholesale lack of empathy — an inability to see any suffering but the narcissist’s own, even when the narcissist has caused real suffering in others.

Some of America’s most florid narcissists have been jaw-droppingly good at this very bad tendency. “How could they f-cking say this? How could they do this to me?” wailed John Edwards when press reports of his career-wrecking extramarital affair began appearing, according to Game Change, by John Heilemann and TIME’s Mark Halperin.

“I don’t believe it, first it snows and now this,” moaned baseball bad girl Marge Schott, former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, when a storm threatened to delay Opening Day and, after the game did start, umpire John McSherry suffered a fatal heart attack behind home plate.

“Others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,” a teary Richard Nixon counseled his White House staff on the morning after he resigned the presidency — affecting the pose of the wronged leader who was rising above the pettiness of his attackers, rather than the constitutional vandal getting out of Dodge before he could be thrown out.

(MORE: Narcissists Know They’re Obnoxious, but Love Themselves All the Same)

The utter absence of the empathy app in narcissists like Nixon, Edwards, Schott and, it seems, Christie, is in some ways a mystery, since it’s one that usually gets downloaded and booted up very early in life. Empathy is hardwired in the brain at birth in the form of mirror neurons, which, as their name suggests, help us experience what others are feeling in a powerful — and sometimes painful — way.

Researchers cite studies, for example, showing that while crying is always contagious in a roomful of newborns, it’s not the noise that appears to be responsible — at least not always. Babies can distinguish between the sound of a real cry and the sound of a recorded one, and will respond with their own tears mostly to the genuine one — presumably because it’s a sign of equally genuine suffering. “Infants show empathy from the very beginning,” says psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University.

Psychologist Mark Barnett of Kansas State University similarly cites the sweet if unscientific phenomenon of toddlers who will respond to the sight of an injured or unhappy adult by racing to bring a plush toy or one of their other favorite comfort objects. It works for them, so why shouldn’t it work for a grownup? “It’s called emotional mimicry,” Barnett says. “It’s not true empathy, but it’s a start.”

Christie did bring his own version of a stuffed teddy to the mayor of Fort Lee, visiting him directly after his press conference to offer his apologies and his sympathy. But it was a small, late and self-preserving gesture, and only to true Christie partisans did it read like real contrition. To most others, it looked like Christie looking out for the man he cares about most, which appears to be Christie.

Narcissism is not all bad. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela may have been among the greatest, bravest, most virtuous men of their era, but if you don’t think they got a deep and primal charge out of being cheered by crowds that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, you don’t know human nature. Diffident people don’t change history. But petty people, self-interested people, people who are very good at feeling their own pain but poor at feeling others’ don’t either. Christie has been learning that lesson since last week. Like other narcissists who have fallen before him, he may find he’s learned it too late.

TIME infographic

Can TIME Predict Your Politics?

See how your preferences in dogs, Internet browsers, and 10 other items predict your partisan leanings.

Read Jonathan Haidt: Your Personality Makes Your Politics

Social scientists find many questions about values and lifestyle that have no obvious connection to politics can be used to predict a person’s ideology. Even a decision as trivial as which browser you’re using to read this article is imbued with clues about your personality. Are you on a Mac or PC? Did you use the default program that came with the computer or install a new one?

In the following interactive, we put together 12 questions that have a statistical correlation to a person’s political leanings, even if the questions themselves are seemingly apolitical. At the end of this (completely anonymous) quiz, we’ll use your responses to guess your politics.

How it works

We created this survey by drawing on several sources. Research by Sam Gosling, at the University of Texas, has found that liberals generally score higher than conservatives on the trait of “openness to experience.” They are more likely to seek out new experiences (such as fusion cuisine), choose to watch documentaries, or enjoy art museums. They have less conventional notions of what is proper in a romantic relationship, so solo pornography consumption is OK. Conservatives are more likely to stick with what is familiar, what is tried and true. Hence, they are more likely to use a PC than a Mac and are more likely to stick with that PC’s default browser, Internet Explorer. Conservatives score higher than liberals on the trait of conscientiousness. They are more organized (neat desks), punctual, and self-controlled (rather than emphasizing self-expression).

We also drew on several surveys from YourMorals.org for data about how values correspond to politics. Conservatives, for example, tend to value respect for authority and group loyalty more than liberals do. Conservatives, therefore, typically show less ambivalence about American history and have a stronger preference for dogs, who are more loyal and obedient than cats. Liberals are more universalist than nationalist; they tend to support the United Nations more, and to wish that the boundaries between countries and the divisions between nations would fade away (as in John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”)

Each of these items is only a weak predictor of ideology. We added them all together (weighting some more than others) to create a short scale with moderate predictive power. But of course people are highly variable. Many conservatives love exotic cuisines and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; many liberals have neat desks and hate cats. And many people can’t place themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension – such as libertarians, or people who find wisdom on both sides on different issues.

For more in-depth surveys on a variety of subjects, please visit YourMorals.org.

Update: Jan. 10, 2014, 11:00 a.m.: It works! Our analysis of 17,000 responses from readers who chose to report their actual ideology found a strong correlation (r=0.604, for those of you keeping score) between a person’s self-reported ideology and the output of the quiz. This is a particularly strong correlation given the wide degree of personal variation in taste that is intrinsic to this sort of research.

The biggest weakness we discovered is that the results from our survey were less distributed across the spectrum than the figures for people’s self-reported ideologies. A person who reported themselves as “very liberal” or “very conservative” tended to receive scores that were artificially close to the center. As of this update, the quiz now employs a basic statistical correction to more accurately reflect the extremity of one’s politics. The “direction” of the results—whether you’re more conservative or more liberal—is unchanged.

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