BBC iWonder Special: 'Take the Test: Where in Britain would you be happiest?'

Producer, BBC Knowledge & Learning

Today, following research released by the University of Cambridge, we are launching a BBC iWonder interactive guide containing a calculator which predicts the best place in Britain for you to live, based on your personality traits. This calculator might seem simple, but it has been five years in the making and was born from a unique collaboration and some startling new science.

The collaboration was part of BBC Lab UK, a project where science researchers designed experiments and the BBC hosted and promoted them to the BBC audience. It was one of BBC Lab UK’s first experiments: The Big Personality Test, launched in 2009.

Fronted by Professor Robert Winston, this ambitious experiment was designed by Dr Jason Rentfrow and Professor Michael Lamb from University of Cambridge’s Psychology department, who wanted to understand which childhood factors shaped personality and also which life outcomes were influenced by people’s personality traits. The Big Personality Test aimed to gather huge amounts of data about Britain’s personality traits, which would be used generate new knowledge in the form of peer reviewed scientific papers, and also to inform the long-running childhood development series ‘Child of Our Time’.

The response to The Big Personality Test exceeded expectation. Hundreds of thousands of people completed the 20 minute test, which included a comprehensive 44 item personality test and many other measures of health, relationships, childhood trauma and life satisfaction.

When completing the test, audiences received instant feedback on their personality traits. The data was then anonymised and passed on to the scientists, who started their analysis.

Their preliminary findings were included in ‘Child of our Time’ in 2010. And since then three journal papers have been published by Dr Rentfrow and Dr Lamb – the latest is today’s paper, Regional Personality Differences in Great Britain, co-authored with Dr Markus Jokela from the University of Helsinki.

The BBC’s continuing role in the collaboration is to communicate the results of the scientists’ analysis to the widest possible UK audience. And developments in technology, in the way that we tell our stories, and in the way that audiences like to experience information, means that there are ways of doing this that weren’t possible five years ago. And so we worked with Dr Rentfrow and his colleague at the University of Helsinki, Dr Marcus Jokela, to come up with an imaginative and accessible way to do this.

What we have produced is an iWonder guide called Take the test: ‘Where in Britain would you be happiest?’, available at www.bbc.co.uk/happiestplace

The interactive guide asks people to answer a short but scientifically valid personality test, and then matches the answers to the region in Britain that most suits that person – i.e. the district where they would be happiest – based on the published research. The guide also estimates how well-matched participants are to the area they currently live in, the nearest place to where they live that they would be happier, and their worst place to live.

The discovery of something new about yourself is a key ambition for iWonder. And making the experience personal, is an increasingly important ambition for BBC content.

We hope that the ‘happiest place’ calculator might do for the psychology of geography what our previously highly successful Great British Class Calculator (also based on a Lab UK experiment) did for social class. The suitability of a place from a psychological perspective is a novel concept for most and could make people reflect on their personality traits differently. While many other factors will influence people’s choice of location, thinking about your personality traits could be significant to your happiness.

Most of all, we hope that by developing interactive experiences, we can continue to offer engrossing ways to engage people in sometimes complex ideas. The beauty of the web is that information can travel in both directions and inform experiences in ways that traditional video cannot.

One of iWonder's key aims is to tell fascinating stories clearly and to use the best media, be it video, interactives, graphics or plain text, to get people ‘sitting forward’ for more highly engaging factual digital content.

Michael Orwell is a Producer in BBC Knowledge and Learning

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