Can We Compare Life Satisfaction Between Nationalities? Evaluating Actual and Imagined Situations
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Do differences in reported life satisfaction between societies reflect real differences or do they reflect cultural differences in the way people rate their experiences? Study 1 showed that imagining better or worse life situations affected student respondents’ ratings of their own life satisfaction, as predicted by range–frequency theory. Study 2 investigated how German and Polish students rated their actual life satisfaction and how satisfied they would be under three imagined scenarios. Study 3 similarly compared Danish and Hungarian students. Both studies found significant differences in the rating of the hypothetical situations, and moderate correlations between ratings of satisfaction in the hypothetical situations and reality, but in neither study were national differences in actual satisfaction predicted by differences in hypothetical satisfaction. Overall, the results suggest that national differences in rated life satisfaction are real rather than reflecting differences in how satisfaction is rated.
KeywordsLife satisfaction Scenario Imagined satisfaction National differences
We are grateful to Anika Köhler, Geza Sapi, and Marta Sernec for their help in obtaining the samples of Studies 2 and 3. Simon Kemp gratefully acknowledges the sponsorship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for this research.
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