September 29, 2022

Country Personality Profiling As A Tool For Geopolitical Analysis

Can a country as a whole have its own personality and characteristics?
Keywords: Geopolitical, Characteristics, Psychology, Geography, Migration, Social Influence, Personality, Nation, Emotion, Behaviour
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There was a recent spat between India and China over a ship docking at the Sri Lankan port. Looking at the media coverage, diplomatic analysis, expert opinions, etc., a question comes to mind, how can a country be aggressive, rude, brash or have any other such characteristics that we usually associate with an individual? A country is after all a notion, a territory, with people within it and a government that has some control. Can a country as a whole have its own personality and characteristics?

Researchers over the years have noticed that there are certain patterns in the spatial distribution of psychological phenomena from a geographical point of view, and as a result of this observation based on scientific studies, a field called geographical psychology emerged. Psychological characteristics across populations become spatially clustered due to three main mechanisms:

  1. Selective migration, which in simple terms means that people immigrate to satisfy and reinforce their basic psychological needs.
  2. Social influence, which refers to how other people are observed as reacting to their environment, in terms of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It includes the influence of social norms shaped by traditions.
  3. Ecological influence: how features of natural and built environments can affect human psychological processes. 

A major study conducted on the young population around the world to understand the personality trends across nations reflected that Indians have personality traits such as, orderliness, cautiousness, a trusting nature, moral inclination, sympathy, emotionality, anger and immoderation. Another survey found that the majority of Indians focus on either constant improvement, social engagement and/or people mastery. The survey also found that the Indian population displayed turbulent traits. Turbulent individuals are success-driven, perfectionistic, and eager to improve. They always try to balance their doubts in their own capabilities by achieving more. The issue with turbulent personalities is that they can also fixate on tiny aspects of an otherwise unexceptionable situation, leading to neglect of other issues and sometimes the fixation can lead to bigger problems. A small example of this can be understood in terms of how India is known to value patience and have a sympathetic attitude, however, due to the turbulent nature of the collective Indian Personality, patience is not really shown on many occasions. For instance, when the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed, many started protesting without even reading what it entailed; the same happened with the Farm Bill, Agnipath Yojana, Triple Talaq ban etc. 

The differences in the final outcome of the policies mentioned above can also be explained by the Indian Personality. While the farm act was repealed and the status of CAA is unclear, policies like GST and Agnipath Yojana have successfully been implemented all over India. The difference in outcomes is due to the approach applied. In the case of GST, the policy was implemented despite the protests and once it was active, a council was formed to adjust the policy in accordance with the concerns of the people and the needs of the country. Similarly, Agnipath Yojana was also implemented despite protests and post-implementation, clarifications and changes were made for those who feared the adverse impact of the policy. This system is good for a country with a turbulent personality because it allows timely implementation of policies while constantly and actively adjusting them according to the needs and concerns of the masses. On the contrary, postponing or repealing a policy to try to improve it is a futile attempt as there is no such thing as a perfect policy, especially for a turbulent personality.

The National character of a country, i.e., shared beliefs or perceptions of personality characteristics common to members of a particular nation held by members of the nation and by other groups of people, may not always reflect its personality profile. National character is mainly influenced by the outward appearance of the country based on its policies and soft power but it does not give us an idea of the internal dynamics of that country. For instance, Australian foreign policy and trade has largely been influenced by a small set of countries. A major player that until recently had influence in all major sectors of its economy including its educational institutions and even its government, is China. The country has in the past faced shortages of baby formula due to mass purchases of stocks by Chinese citizens who sent the goods back to China. During the pandemic, again there was a shortage in stores as Chinese citizens mass purchased PPE and masks. Australia has had quite a cautious trade policy, not stepping out of its comfort zone until recently. Additionally, Australia is known to have had extensive, strict and long-drawn lockdowns to counter the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic. During the pandemic, Australia was, however, in the lead in demanding a thorough investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 virus and its spread despite the aggressive response from China. The points mentioned, may give some an impression that Australia is reactionary, conservative in its foreign policy, strict about law and order even when sacrifices are needed, and focused on the present. However, the Australian personality profile gives a different picture. The Australian personality is intuitive, they look towards the future, are flexible and adapt easily to new challenges. The Australian population is also very extroverted and does not appreciate restrictions in movement. When you see the above policies in terms of Australian personality, the mass protests over lockdown measures and the warning bells that were being sounded about Chinese influence as far back as 2017 would start to make sense. 

Looking at it from a foreign policy perspective, the Australian personality gives us a hint as to the kind of approaches that will bring effective results and those that may not. A long-term future plan that looks at continued and reliable exchange of any goods and services, preferably showing an increase or advancement in that sector that makes the exchange valuable, would bring positive results when working with Australia. A partnership in the tourism sector and joint initiatives to make the hospitality and tourism sector more profitable for both countries involved would also get a positive response. Similarly, A rapid action and response system that allows for both countries to partner in the reactionary short-term and long-term measures to ensure security and protection in case of natural disasters, military threats, supply shortages etc., would bring desired results. However, any policy that increases Australian dependence on the other country, or does not give both parties equal benefit, will be met with resistance.

Coming back to our neighbourhood. 41.47% of the Pakistani population surveyed displayed the personality traits characteristic diplomats. Pakistan has an extroverted personality that is also observant, feeling and turbulent. It also prefers a strategy of social engagement. Now, considering the current global isolation of Pakistan and its listing in the FATF gray list, some may suggest that the character of Pakistan is not in line with its personality. If we are to maintain this observation, the instability of the current government and the turmoil within could be explained using this model. An observant, turbulent and feeling population is not ideal for a country with a national character such as that of Pakistan. This dissonance in priorities is a factor that promises unrest. Warnings of the said unrest have already been issued by organisations such as the IMF. In a country that has such a personality profile and national character, the dissonance between the people and the government policy, will simply lead to an implosion within the country if left unattended by outside players.

In order to understand and predict the internal and external reactions of the country over the long term, we must look beyond the policy decisions and actions, focusing on the personality of its population. Even with absolute control over the population, the government of any country is still influenced by the very same population. We need to expand surveys on the personality of the population beyond the affluent, educated and young demographic and get a holistic understanding of a country/s personality. Only when we understand the reason behind the way a country reacts, can we predict its reactions in the future.

5 comments

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  • Definitely a countries personality is defined by the collective personality of its people. Hence a wholistic study about the key personality traits of a country would be a good way to forecast how it would behave & react to different situations & circumstances. Crisp & well written 👍

  • Aptly brought out. Good observation and very well projected. The population as such gives out more data and in turn this gives more realistic inferences.

  • Very fascinating field of research. Outcomes of the study could possibly be used for analyzing or predicting response of nations to emerging geopolitical situations. Retrospective study i.e, analysis of past events, say the two World Wars, or Great depression of 1929 in the light of the nature of Countries involved, may throw some light on the proposed study. When applied to current times, the changes in world such as globalization, altered geopolitical and military alliances, emerging economic alliances , conflicts over resources that are important in contemporary times etc will have to be factored in.

  • Yes, I agree and fully endorse the view that citizen of a Nation have distinct personality traits. I observed this in a United Nation mission where I was interacting with citizens of around 40 countries and almost all of them had some specific traits, which displayed larger character of their countries. Good to see this becoming subject of psychological research.

Anmol Mahajan

Anmol Mahajan is Research Fellow at India Foundation. She has recently completed her Master's in Clinical Psychology from Amity University Uttar Pradesh, Noida.

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