Physical topography is associated with human personality

Friedrich M Götz, Stefan Stieger, Samuel D Gosling, Jeff Potter, Peter J Rentfrow

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

40 Citations (Scopus)


Regional differences in personality are associated with a range of consequential outcomes. But which factors are responsible for these differences? Frontier settlement theory suggests that physical topography is a crucial factor shaping the psychological landscape of regions. Hence, we investigated whether topography is associated with regional variation in personality across the United States (n = 3,387,014). Consistent with frontier settlement theory, results from multilevel modelling revealed that mountainous areas were lower on agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness but higher on openness to experience. Conditional random forest algorithms confirmed mountainousness as a meaningful predictor of personality when tested against a conservative set of controls. East-west comparisons highlighted potential differences between ecological (driven by physical features) and sociocultural (driven by social norms) effects of mountainous terrain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1135-1144
Number of pages10
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Ecology
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Multilevel Analysis
  • Personality/classification
  • Social Norms
  • United States


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