Surveys have consistently shown that conservatives are happier than liberals and this result has evidently annoyed liberals. Fortunately, social science has come to the rescue to show that liberals aren’t less happy than conservatives; it’s just that conservatives are dishonest. The proper order of the world in which liberals are nicer, better, prettier, and smarter has been restored. OK. That’s a bit exaggerated, but consider this new study, “Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness,” just published in Science:
Research suggesting that political conservatives are happier than political liberals has relied exclusively on self-report measures of subjective well-being. We show that this finding is fully mediated by conservatives’ self-enhancing style of self-report and then describe three studies drawing from “big data” sources to assess liberal-conservative differences in happiness-related behavior. Relative to conservatives, liberals more frequently used positive emotional language in their speech and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs.
The New York Times’ take on the study, “Happiness Gap May Favor Liberals” reads:
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.
Two other studies analyzed the emotional tenor of language in 47,000 Twitter posts by nearly 4,000 Twitter users and the photographs of 457 users of LinkedIn, with similar results. The Twitter users were identified as liberal or conservative depending on whether they subscribed to feeds from the Democratic or Republican parties. The LinkedIn users were affiliated with organizations associated with liberal or conservative ideologies, like Planned Parenthood and the Family Research Council. …
A fourth study in the series surveyed visitors to YourMorals.org, a psychology research website, in which participants filled out questionnaires measuring life satisfaction and the propensity to self-enhance. As in previous research, conservatives reported greater happiness than liberals. But they were also more prone to self-enhancement, the study found.
“Conservatives’ reports of happiness do seem to be bolstered by this self-enhancing tendency,” Mr. Wojcik said.
The Times does note that the researchers do write:
“It would be a mistake to infer from our data that liberals are ‘objectively’ happier than conservatives or that conservatives’ self-enhancing tendencies are necessarily maladaptive.”
And here I had been thinking that it was liberals who tended more toward preening self-congratulation. My mistake.
A 2014 study, “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychology,” on the political biases of social science researchers in Brain and Behavioral Brain Sciences noted:
In psychology the imbalance is slightly stronger: 84 percent identify as liberal while only 8 percent identify as conservative. That is a ratio of 10.5 to 1. In the United States as a whole, the ratio of liberals to conservatives is roughly 1 to 2.
That “imbalance” couldn’t have anything to do with how research results on political psychology turn out, could it?
For more background information of the deficiencies of conservatives, read my article on “Pathologizing Conservatism: Is it an unfortunate evolutionary holdover, or the product of a bad upbringing?”
Disclosure: I am just happy that I am a libertarian.