As if endless debates about social and cultural issues aren’t enough to perpetually divide conservatives and liberals, the two groups are locked in another dispute—this one involving happiness. Previous research found that conservative people tend to be happier than liberal people, but a new study suggests this might not be the case. Research into happiness among conservatives and liberals has historically relied on self-reports, but the latest study, published in Science, suggests that liberals display happier body language and speech patterns.
The Case for Liberal Happiness
The study, led by University of California Irvine doctoral student Sean Wojcik, explored behaviors associated with happiness rather than self-reports of positive emotions. Researchers analyzed Congressional Record transcripts, photos of every member of Congress, 47,000 political tweets, and 500 LinkedIn photos. The results suggest that liberals might be at the happier end of the political debate. Liberals were more likely to use positive language. Liberals also were deemed to have smiled more genuinely and intensely in their photos, clearly a judgment call on the part of researchers whose own biases cannot be controlled for.
Who’s Really Happier?
A number of studies have argued that conservatives tend to be happier than liberals, but most of these studies evaluated happiness by simply asking participants how happy they feel. This, Wojcik and his colleagues believe, is an unreliable measure of well-being. The study argues that most people tend to rate themselves higher than average on positive traits, such as intelligence and good driving. Wojcik and his team found that this tendency is stronger among conservatives than liberals.
This might help explain the discrepancy across studies. It could be that conservatives are more likely to say they’re happy, while liberals are more likely to act happy. But if conservatives claim to be happier than they actually are, they might be getting a boost from doing so. The study’s authors say that the tendency to exaggerate positive traits is associated with a number of benefits, including better relationships and more productive work.
- Jetten, J., Haslam, S. A., and Barlow, F. K. (2012). Bringing Back the System: One Reason Why Conservatives are Happier Than Liberals is That Higher Socioeconomic Status Gives Them Access to More Group Memberships. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(1), 6-13. doi:10.1177/1948550612439721
- Political liberals display greater happiness, study shows. (2015, March 12). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150312142909.htm
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