Psychology Research Idea: Correlate Political Orientation with Therapy and Anti-depressants

by phil on Monday Nov 24, 2008 12:50 AM

There was a study a few years back that said conservatives are on average happier than liberals. Apparently this has spawned other studies, in particular this one that explains the reasons why conservatives are happier (because they rationalize social and economic inequalities).

Furthermore, I think it would be interesting to see if there's a correlation between political identification and anti-depressant dosage and/or frequency of therapy.

I threw out an off-hand generalization today, "I bet liberals, along with all their interest in organic stuff, are more likely to take anti-depressants." My friend responded back with, "Well, I think anti-depressants might be an outgrowth of a more proactive nature, a willingness to try things."

Anyway, it would be interesting to see if my generalization is true. I think we often see interesting studies that confirm things we always suspect, but just want to see the concrete evidence for. For example, a study came out a few weeks ago that stated, "Bullies' Brains Light Up With Pleasure as People Squirm." While it's common sense that bullies derive pleasure from pain, that article got a significant amount of play as "news" that week.


thehomestargunner said on November 24, 2008 9:20 PM:

A personal example: My wife is a devoted conservative and does take anti-depressants. I believe myself to be a centrist (certainly more liberal than my wife) and would say that I have a "happier" outlook on life than my wife.

Strange Loops said on November 25, 2008 7:49 PM:

Interesting thought. In 15 minutes of trying, I couldn't find any source that might give me some reliable data to properly compare antidepressant use among left or right.

If conservatives are happier in general, then they'll presumably have less need of antidepressants, so that's a good reason to hypothesize lower use compared to liberals.

But maybe there's some other variables that throw things in the other direction. Like conservatives trust doctors while liberals look to alternative medicine or something else for their happiness. Conservatives tend to be those who make more money, so they might have more money to pay for regular prescriptions, leaving liberals using less antidepressants because they in general have less opportunity to procure them.

Don't know if such things would be true, but that's precisely why it's worth doing studies to get some empirical results on this stuff. Yes, often we end up just supporting what seems obvious (though we are in danger of the Hindsight Bias convincing us it was obvious when it wasn't really). Yet those occasional(?) times when our common sense or traditional wisdom is wrong are the reason we keep putting our intuitions to the test.

Simply put, sometimes we *are* wrong. And it's so damn fun to find out :)

I'll ask a social psychologist colleague of mine who has done some work on political orientation. Maybe he would know where to look for data on antidepressant use connected to that.

My gut for a not very controlled first look at the hypothesis would be simply ranking the states by party affiliation (most conservative to most liberal) and then finding state-level data on antidepressant use, and see if there's a correlation -- i.e. if the highest antidep use states tend to be the more blue states, and the lowest antidep use states tend to be the more red ones.

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