A recent study published by a group of psychologists in the journal Science finds that China’s noodle-slurping northerners are more individualistic, show more “analytic thought” and divorce more frequently. By contrast, rice-eating southerners show more hallmarks traditionally associated with East Asian culture, including more “holistic thought” and lower divorce rates.
The reason? Cultivating rice, the authors say, is a lot harder. By contrast, the north’s staple grain is much simpler to grow.
To do the study, the authors evaluated the attitudes of 1,162 Han Chinese students in Beijing and Liaoning in the north and in Fujian, Guangdong, Yunnan and Sichuan in the south. They also tried to control for other factors that distinguish the north and south (e.g. climate, dialect and contact with herding cultures) plus they analyzed differences between various neighboring counties in five central provinces along China’s rice-wheat border.
The authors concluded that the influence of rice cultivation can help explain East Asia’s “strangely persistent interdependence” e.g. why South Korea and Japan have remained less individualistic than Western countries, even as they’ve grown more wealthy.
Its also worth mentioning that the authors are not alone in coming to a conclusion that what people cultivate impacts personality. For example: Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book “Outliers” drew connections between a hard-working ethic (e.g. the willingness to fill out a long, tedious questionnaires) to a historical tradition of rice cultivation.