Conservatives May Not Be Happier Than Liberals After All, Studies Find

Smiley face

Erica Goode in the NYT:

Conservatives are happier than liberals, or so decades of surveys that ask about life satisfaction would suggest.

The existence of a so-called ideological happiness gap is so well established that recently social scientists have mostly tried to explain it.

But a new series of studies questions the gap itself, raising the possibility that although conservatives may report greater happiness than liberals, they are no more likely to act in ways that indicate that they really are happier.

“If it’s real happiness, it should show up in people’s behavior,” said Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, and an author of an article about the studies, which were led by Sean Wojcik, a doctoral candidate at the university.

“What our evidence suggests is that it’s limited to self-reports of subjective well-being,” Professor Ditto said. The article appears in the March 13 issueof the journal Science.

In fact, when behaviors rather than self-reports were examined, liberals seemed to have a small but statistically significant happiness edge.

The researchers examined two behaviors linked to happiness: smiling and using positive language. For their subject pool, they chose large groups whose political leanings could be identified with some reliability, including members of Congress and users of Twitter and LinkedIn.

One study analyzed the emotional content of more than 430 million words entered in the Congressional Record over 18 years. Liberal-leaning politicians, the researchers found, were more likely to use positive words and no more likely to use sad or negative words.

Political ideology in the study was defined by the speaker’s voting record or party affiliation.

The study also examined publicly available photographs of 533 members of Congress, finding that conservative politicians were less likely than liberals to display smiles involving facial muscles around the eyes, a measure that previous research has found to be associated with genuine emotion.

More here.