Psychologists thought left-wingers were generally more miserable, until this study

Bill Clinton. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Previous research showing that people with conservative politics having higher spirits that those on the left may have misjudged the situation.

Psychologists now say, in a study published in the journal Science, that left-wingers exhibit happier speech patterns and facial expressions.

“The so-called happiness gap between liberals and conservatives is more complicated than we thought,” says Sean Wojcik, a doctoral student in psychology and social behaviour at the University of California Irvine (UCI).

Previous findings that political conservatives are happier were based on self-reports of happiness, something which can be inflated by the individual.

“If you want to know how happy someone is, one way to do it is to just ask them, and this logic has been relied upon heavily in research on subjective well-being,” said Peter Ditto, professor of psychology and social behaviour.

“But another way to think about it is that happy is as happy does, and looking at happiness-related behaviour avoids the issue of someone striving to present him- or herself as a happy person.”

The researchers turned to online survey takers, the words of politicians, and Twitter and LinkedIn users with ties to companies or groups associated with either left or conservative viewpoints.

They found that contrary to the pattern of greater conservative happiness found in self-report questionnaires, liberals more frequently employed positive language in their speech and writing and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs.

“We were surprised by how consistently happiness-related behaviour was predicted by having a liberal political ideology,” Wojcik said. “We saw similar patterns of emotional language and smiling behaviour among Congress members, Twitter users and LinkedIn users.”

People tend to report traits and abilities in a favourable way. But this isn’t a bad thing.

“There’s research saying that self-enhancement is related to improved social relations, productive and creative work, and other beneficial outcomes,” Wojcik said.

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