Research has shown that wealthier, urbanised regions tend to harbour more individualistic personalities, while poorer, agrarian areas have more collectivist, community-minded ones. But why? A study from the University of Chicago published this week suggests such differences could be down to a region’s predominant crops—an insight gleaned, improbably, from observing nearly 9,000 customers in Chinese cafes. People in China’s south farm rice, which requires a whole village’s co-operation on irrigation; in the north, they grow wheat, far less demanding of collective effort. The researchers’ first observation was that latte-lovers in wheat-growing regions were far more likely to be alone. Then the team surreptitiously blocked thoroughfares with chairs. Among northerners, 16% shifted the chairs (individualism is marked by actively modifying one’s environment), while only 6% from the rice-cultivating south did so (collectivists tend to work with what they’ve got). It’s an intriguing sociological suggestion, perhaps to be filed under “you are what you eat”.
References this study: Moving chairs in Starbucks.1