Feeling positive towards others makes you happier….unless you’re a Libertarian

September 9th, 2009 by Ravi Iyer

Some of the group that run yourmorals.org are considering writing a paper focusing on Libertarians and so I’ve been looking at the data for triends.  One consistent pattern we have found is that Libertarians (unsuprisingly) are more self rather than other oriented.  They aren’t just extreme conservatives, but are qualitatively different.  They seem to moralize less and are more self vs. other oriented on scales like the Schwartz Values Scale.One hypothesis about this would be that Libertarians are less positively affected by other people.  Happiness research consistently shows that relationships are very important for people’s happiness….This is true for both liberals and conservatives.  But is this the case for Libertarians?Consider the following 2 graphs.  The first one shows the relationship between a measure of depression symptoms (BSI – eg. “feeling blue” in the past 7 days) and a measure of abstract feelings toward others (Feeling Towards Others Scale by Belinda Campos at UC-Irvine, eg.  “For me, happiness comes from performing acts of kindness for others.”).

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….and here is a graph with a similar pattern replacing depression symptoms with Ed Diener’s Satisfaction with Life Scale.

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The interesting pattern is that feeling close to abstract other people (not explicitly friends or family, for whom the pattern is different) is positively related to life satisfaction and negatively related to depressive symptoms for everyone, liberal or conservative, except libertarians.There are of course caveats to this result (as there are in any research).  Our sample is limited to people who visit our website, who tend to be well educated internet users, so this may only be true for those kinds of people.  Still, this result seems to converge with other evidence, both in our data and in society, that libertarians are more self than other oriented (eg. Ayn Rand’s book, the Virtue of Selfishness).  If positive affect motivates many people to be other oriented, then the fact that libertarians lack the other-orientation->positive emotion relationship would help explain their lack of other orientation.

– Ravi Iyer

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