Are personality traits products of our location?

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Many behaviors may not be a product of who you are, but where you are, according to new research with children from four countries.

“We tend to think of qualities like patience as an innate part of who we are but virtually all of what we know about how these behaviors develop comes from children in industrialized societies,” says lead author Dorsa Amir, an anthropologist at Yale University.

The team compared choices indigenous Shuar children, who live in forager-horticulturalist societies in Amazonian Ecuador, made to those of their peers from India, Argentina, and the United States.

In a test of patience, researchers told children they could get a piece of candy immediately or more, up to five candies, if they waited until the next day. To assess tolerance for risk, the researchers asked children to choose a marble from a bag with all yellow marbles guaranteed to net them one candy or from a second bag, which contained five green marbles that would net nothing, but also one red one, which would earn them a variable number of candies, from one to five.

Shuar children from the rainforest communities showed less patience than peers in developed countries, more often opting for the candy immediately. They were also much more risk averse, usually taking a sure bet from the bag of yellow marbles.

“This is what we expected,” Amir says. “With industrialization often comes buffers, like storable food or money. Perhaps because of that, kids can afford to be bolder.”

When the researchers ran the same tests with a second group of Shuar kids who lived closer to cities, they found little difference in the choices the second group of children made and those children in the industrialized countries made.

“These Shuar kids were behaving more like the Americans, and less like their Shuar counterparts in the forest,” Amir says. “This suggests that industrialization can shape behavior rather dramatically, and if we really want to understand the full range of human behavior, we need to include participants from pre-industrial societies.”

The research appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Source: Yale University