7. Do some cultures have consistent appraisal styles that relate to subjective well-being?
7.3. Feelings about freedom of expression
116. There is a strong relationship between the people’s perceived freedom of political expression ("In your opinion, how many people in this country, if any, are afraid to openly express their political views?") and the voice and accountability sub-dimension of the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators (WGI).
ARM Countries with high residuals are marked by red labels
Coef=0.475; se=0.076; R²=0.188 Countries with high residuals are marked by red labels
Coef=0.256; se=0.049; R²=0.136
As illustrated in Figure 31, higher scores on voice and accountability are associated with a greater likelihood of people feeling that political views can be expressed freely.
Figure 31: Freedom of expression is positively associated with voice and accountability 2012 or closest available year
Note: For each point on the chart, both data sources are drawn from the same year. Where 2012 data are not available, but data for both 2011 and 2013 exist, only data from 2011 are shown.
Sources: Gallup World Poll and World Bank World Governance Indicators (WGIs).
117. Differences between perceived freedom of political expression and political voice (measured by the WGI voice and accountability indicators) are not significantly related to the gap between actual and expected subjective well-being (for life evaluations, affect balance, and positive affect). There is, on the contrary, a small negative relationship for negative affect (Figure 32, below): the higher the average level of negative affect (controlled for baseline life circumstances), the more negatively people feel about their ability to express themselves politically (over and above the predictions of the WGI voice and accountability measure). Even this relationship, however, only accounts for a very small proportion of the gap between actual and expected negative affect.
GT M GUY
SGP TZA UKR
1.5 22.5 33.5
-2 -1 0 1 2
WGI's Voice and Accountability Free political expression Fitted line Countries with high residuals are marked by red labels
Coef=0.252; se=0.025; R²=0.389
Figure 32: Negative affect CFEs are associated with more negative appraisals of political expression 2009-2013 pooled data
118. In general, the analyses in this section show consistent relationships between people’s perceptions about country circumstances (income, the economy, political freedom), and more objective measures of those circumstances. In fact, they suggest a surprising degree of accuracy among respondents, given that most could not be expected to have an in-depth knowledge about how their country or territory compares globally on many of these measures.
119. Nonetheless, unexplained variance remains: people in some countries and territories give a more positive appraisal of their prevailing living conditions than the objective datamight predict, while others give a more negative assessment overall. The tendency to view life circumstances relatively more positively (or negatively) than objective conditions suggest is also correlated with the tendency to view life – and experience emotions – more positively (or negatively) than objective conditions suggest. The relationship between “perception gaps” in the measures examined here and the perception gaps between actual and predicted subjective well-being as measured by the country fixed effect were by far the strongest regarding perceptions about income, and weakest with regard to perceptions about political freedom of expression. There are at least three different ways these results could be interpreted:
1. People’s expectations play a role: if people have low expectactions, they may be more easily satisfied with their living conditions (e.g., their income, or with the economy), and therefore also more easily satisfied in life as a whole, and experience more positive and less negative emotion.
This could be an appraisal style that relates to cultural or historical differences in life experiences, and could make a meaningful difference to someone’s private feelings (i.e. a form of cultural impact).
2. Conversely, some cultures might have social norms that make expressing unhappiness or dissatisfaction with life circumstances (or life as a whole) undesirable, regardless of a person’s true feelings. A “mustn’t grumble”, “stiff upper lip” or “can-do attitude” social norm might require
RES(Free Political Expression | WGI's Voice and accountability) CFE(Negative Affect | Baseline) Fitted line Countries with high residuals are marked by red labels
Coef=-0.117; se=0.067; R²=0.021
people to express positive appraisals in public, regardless of someone’s private feelings. This would arguably be a source of cultural bias.
3. These analyses could miss important factors: there may be other variables (such as health, personal safety, social connections, levels of trust, or inequalities in income and wealth) which could affect both how easy, enjoyable and satisfying people find their lives, as well as how positively they appraise their income, economy and freedom of expression.
120. The analysis conducted here does not identify which of the three possibilities is correct.
However, if it is assumed that all of the correlation between perception gaps and the difference between perceived and actual subjective well-being is cultural bias (option 2) then this establishes an upper limit for the impact of cultural bias on subjective well-being. Taking the results from feelings about the economy and feelings about income, between 5.6% and 19% of unexplained variance in country level subjective well-being could be attributed to cultural bias. Based on the highest model R2s, this means that cultural bias could be responsible for country differences of up to 0.568 scale points in life evaluations (0-10 scale), up to 0.165 scale points in positive affect (0-3 scale), up to 0.146 scale points in negative affect (0-3 scale) and up to 0.385 scale points in affect balance (-3 to +3 scale) To the extent that either of the other two explanations for the correlation outlined above are true, cultural bias would have a smaller impact.
121. Interestingly, positive appraisal styles do not seem to explain the very positive life evaluations in several Latin American countries (Costa Rica, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, and Chile). In these countries, people rate their life overall very positively, but do not “overestimate” (i.e., have an overly positive view of) their income levels or the performance of the economy. Consistent with Diener et al. (2000) this argues against a blanket bias in these countries causing people to regard every aspect of life more positively. It also points away from the idea that an extreme response style (i.e. a tendency to endorse high scores on a response scale) is the sole factor at work.
122. Furthermore, the very high levels of negative affect (low positive affect and low affect balance) seen in several Middle Eastern countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Israel) as well as Armenia and Serbia do not seem to be associated with a systematic tendency towards negative appraisals of income, the economy, or political freedom. It is highly likely that these negative experiences relate to unmeasured life circumstances, including experiences of conflict, rather than simply to a more negative outlook on life.
8. Cultural transmission among migrants: Separating culture from country circumstance