Research Highlights - August 2018

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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. According to a study just published in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, conservatives, more so than liberals, feel that their lives are meaningful or have purpose. The work by USC’s Mind and Society Center was based on five studies examining how strongly conservatives and liberals feel that their lives have purpose.

The scientists analyzed results from two nationally-representative samples and three additional samples in which well-being was assessed in various forms. Altogether, these studies encompassed thousands of participants from sixteen countries and spanned four decades.

Participants usually ranked their political ideology on a scale from one to seven, ranging from “extremely conservative” to “extremely liberal.” They also rated how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “my life has a real purpose” and “I understand my life’s meaning.”

The psychologists were aware that religious belief may be a factor and adjusted the results to account for it. Even then, the association between political leanings and sense of purpose held strong.

The results suggest “that there is some unique aspect of political conservatism that provides people with meaning and purpose in life,” the scientists wrote.

The researchers cautioned against making conclusions about anyone’s state of mind and overall well-being based solely on their political leanings. It doesn’t mean that every conservative finds a lot of meaning in their life and that every liberal is depressed. Other factors may influence whether someone feels that his or her life is meaningful. These factors range from various personal characteristics such as how religious someone is to situational influences such as one’s current mood.


SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PERSONALITY SCIENCE, June 15, 2018, “Conservatives Report Greater Meaning in Life Than Liberals,” by David B. Newman, Norbert Schwarz, Jesse Graham, Arthur A. Stone. © 2018 by Social and Personality Psychology Consortium. All rights reserved.


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