Conservatives believe their lives are more meaningful than liberals, study finds

Previous research suggests those with right-leaning political beliefs boast greater life satisfaction

Olivia Petter
Wednesday 18 July 2018 11:12 BST
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What is the meaning of life?

If you struggle to come up with an answer to the age-old conundrum, you could blame your left-leaning political ideologies, as new research claims that conservatives are more likely to have an established sense of their life purpose than liberals.

According to the University of California study, which analysed a series of surveys across 16 countries, those with liberal beliefs are more likely to be in a perpetual state of searching for meaning than their right-wing counterparts.

"Finding meaning in life is related to the sense or feeling that things are the way they should be, and that there is a sense of order," commented co-author David Newman.

"If life feels chaotic, then that would likely dampen your sense that life is meaningful."

Researchers examined data acquired from five studies looking at how liberals and conservatives rate their lives in terms of meaning and purpose in a dataset spanning four decades.

Participants were asked to rate their political beliefs on a spectrum, ranging from “extremely conservative” to “extremely liberal” and were subsequently asked to respond to statements questioning the extent to which they felt their lives had purpose such as “I understand my life’s meaning”.

The study’s authors accounted for religious beliefs when analysing the responses and still found strong links between those with conservative ideologies having a stronger sense of purpose compared to liberals.

However, Newman stressed the findings are by no means necessarily applicable to all.

"It doesn't mean that every conservative finds a lot of meaning in their life and that every liberal is depressed," he clarified, adding that there are a number of other factors which may influence a person’s feelings towards whether their life has meaning.

"These factors range from various personal characteristics such as how religious someone is to situational influences such as one's current mood," he said.

Newman was inspired to look into the links between political leanings and perceptions of a meaningful life after various studies claimed that conservatives generally boasted higher life satisfaction than liberals.

“Much of the research has focused solely on just one indicator of well-being, namely evaluations of life satisfaction,” he told PsyPost.

“I was a bit surprised no one had expanded the research to include other measures of well-being, and I am interested in learning more about differences between hedonic forms of well-being (e.g., life satisfaction, positive emotions) and eudaimonic forms of well-being (e.g., meaning in life).”

Newman added that further research is necessary in order to fully establish the links between conservatives and feelings of a meaningful life.

“A question that still needs to be addressed is why conservatives find more meaning in life than liberals,” he added.

“Our results showed that it can’t be completely explained by the fact that conservatives are more religious than liberals and religious people find more meaning in life than non-religious people.

“But the results suggest it is more likely related to social conservative issues (e.g., views on abortion and gay rights) than economic conservative issues.”

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