Tobias Ebert, Friedrich M. Götz, Joe J. Gladstone, Sandrine R. Müller, Sandra C. Matz
Spending reflects not only who we are but also who we are around: The joint effects of individual and geographic personality on consumption

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2021: 121, issue 2, pp. 378–393
ISSN: 0022-3514 (print), 1939-1315 (online)

Interactionist theories are considered to have resolved the classic person-situation debate by demonstrating that human behavior is most accurately described as a function of both personal characteristics as well as environmental cues. According to these theories, personality traits form part of the personal characteristics that drive behavior. We suggest that psychological theory stands to gain from also considering personality traits as an important environmental characteristic that shapes sociocultural norms and institutions, and, in turn, behavior. Building on research in geographical psychology, we support this proposition by presenting evidence on the relationship of individual and regional personality with spending behavior. Analyzing the spending records of 111,336 participants (31,915,942 unique transactions) across 374 Local Authority Districts (LAD) in the UK, we first show that geographic regions with higher aggregate scores on a given personality trait collectively spend more money on categories associated with that trait. Shifting the focus to individual level spending as our behavioral outcome (N = 1,716), we further demonstrate that regional personality of a participant’s home LAD predicts individual spending above and beyond individual personality. That is, a person’s spending reflects both their own personality traits as well as the personality traits of the people around them. We use conditional random forest predictions to highlight the robustness of these findings in the presence of a comprehensive set of individual and regional control variables. Taken together, our findings empirically support the proposition that spending behaviors reflect personality traits as both personal and environmental characteristics.