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Get this: Study claims we're ornery

Welcome to Kentucky, where the sun shines bright and the people are unhappy, unhealthy, unsociable and intolerant.

These are conclusions from a study by a University of Cambridge (England) professor and Louisiana native who conducts online surveys that evaluate these United States — and the countries of the world — on extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.

The good news, Kentuckians? Well, there isn't any, so feel free to slink back behind your closed door and indulge in those evil thoughts the study assumes you're already thinking.

Jason Rentfrow's study finds a "neuroticism belt" that includes West Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Louisiana, Arkansas and — wait for it — New York and New Jersey. But he says the study doesn't stereotype states: "It may be that the state personality profiles we found are consistent with existing stereotypes, but this work did not examine them directly and in no way aimed to advocate their use."

Why the link between neuroticism and rates of disease? Where people are anxious, Rentfrow's results indicate that "neurotic" people exercise less and have lower life expectancy as well as higher rates of heart disease and cancer.

And the bad news just keeps on coming: Residents of the "neuroticism belt" are less likely to go out and/or spend time with friends, and the arts languish.

Kentucky also ranks low in "openness," meaning it's less socially tolerant and less likely to encourage jobs that involve abstract and creative thought.

Researchers used half a million online surveys to fill out their personality map of the states, but the number of surveys logged in from each state varied wildly: Kentucky notched 7,827 responses, neighboring Tennessee 10,662, California 71,873. Items on the "Big Five Personality Test" ask you to evaluate yourself on a scale of agreement-disagreement on such items such as "is relaxed, handles stress well" and "is ingenious, a deep thinker."

Why does Kentucky have a place in the "neuroticism belt"?

Says Kentucky pundit Al Smith, former host of KET's Comment on Kentucky: "It's our conflicted history: Pioneer land grabs and rigged politics; sitting out the Civil War, then joining the losers in a backward march; scary sermons against the sweetness of our homemade 'sins' — smoking, drinking and racing — all of which we taxed to make us feel better."

To take the survey yourself — Rentfrow says the survey weeds out duplicate surveys from the same IP address — visit Rentfrow's Web site at http://rentfrow.socialpsychology.org.

And try not to obsess about the neurotic label. Says Rentfrow, "Being neurotic not only means being easily anxious, but it can also mean being in touch with one's feelings, sensitive, and cautious."

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