Remember that time you lived contentedly in a not-so-great dorm or building or neighborhood? That’s normal: An enormous new meta-study of 400,000 people across America, Europe, and Asia finds that neighborhood satisfaction is only weakly correlated with the realities of the neighborhood itself.
“It’s all in our heads,” according to author Zachary Neal, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, who pooled findings from 27 studies. “Contrary to what many would think, characteristics of your neighborhood have little to do with how satisfied you are with it.” The research was published in Urban Studies.
This is jolting news to the city planners, developers, politicians, and neighbors who devote their lives to creating lovely locales and now need to reconsider what, exactly, makes people love their surroundings. Neal found that neighborhood characteristics such as curb appeal and services such as snow plowing account for just 16% of a person’s satisfaction with the neighborhood.
Neal knew that people base their evaluations on other factors, because neighborhood ratings vary quite widely, even among people in the same neighborhood. “That tells us something besides the neighborhood itself is responsible for how much satisfaction each person reports having,” he said in a news release.
Neal says that people’s satisfaction likely relates to their own personality traits, such as agreeableness, and that when it comes to neighborhoods, perception is much more important than reality. People are more satisfied “if they merely think schools are good, even if the schools aren’t actually that great.”