A new study has found that politically liberal people exhibit happier speech patterns and facial expressions.
The study is in contrast to previous research that found political conservatives report being happier than liberals, according to researchers at the University of California, Irvine.
“The so-called ‘happiness gap’ between liberals and conservatives is more complicated than we thought,” said Sean Wojcik, a doctoral student in psychology and social behavior at the university and lead author of the study, which appears in Science.
Those previous studies were based on self-reports of happiness, the researchers noted.
“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 Dr. Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology and social behavior and co-author of the paper.
“But another way to think about it is that happy is as happy does, and looking at happiness-related behavior avoids the issue of someone striving to present him- or herself as a happy person.”
To assess differences in happiness-related behavior, the researchers turned to “big data” sources, such as online survey takers, politicians, and Twitter and LinkedIn users with ties to companies or organizations associated with either liberal (Planned Parenthood, for example) or conservative (Fox News) viewpoints.
The psychologists then analyzed millions of words from Congressional Record transcripts and the photographs of every member of Congress, as well as 47,000 tweets and nearly 500 photos from LinkedIn.
They found that liberals used positive language in their speech and writing more frequently and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs.
“We were surprised by how consistently happiness-related behavior was predicted by having a liberal political ideology,” Wojcik said. “We saw similar patterns of emotional language and smiling behavior among Congress members, Twitter users, and LinkedIn users.”
Wojcik said he has an explanation for why these results belie the self-reports of greater happiness among those who lean to the right.
“People tend to report all kinds of traits and abilities in an overly favorable way,” he said. “If you ask people to rate themselves across almost any set of positive traits — intelligence, social skills, even driving ability — most will rate themselves above average. We observed that effect to be stronger among conservatives than liberals.”
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, he added.
“There’s research saying that self-enhancement is related to improved social relations, productive and creative work, and other beneficial outcomes,” he concluded.
Source: University of California, Irvine