Research suggests Maine is one of America’s most ideologically ‘loose’ states

Mother Jones graphic

Mother Jones graphic

Don’t read that headline the wrong way. For the purposes of this discussion, ideological “looseness” is strictly referring to how flexible — or not — people are in terms of enforcing rules and accepting variances from social norms.

In new research by Jesse Harrington and Michele Gelfand of the University of Maryland Department of Psychology, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and subsequently covered by the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones (see the map above), states are broken down by how “tight” or “loose” they are.

The researchers used a number of criteria to evaluate “tightness-looseness,” including: the legality of corporal punishment; the percentage of students hit/punished in schools; the rate of executions; the severity of punishment for violating laws; the legality of same-sex civil unions or marriages; “state-level religiosity;” percentage of the population claiming no religious affiliation; and the percentage of the population that is foreign.

Harrington and Gelfand assigned numerical ranges to the criteria and placed each state in those ranges, then ran a complicated statistical formula to determine a total score for how “tight” or “loose” each one is.

Maine comes out as one of the country’s 10 “loosest” states, along with Vermont, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and, the loosest of them all, California.

The tightest state in America, according to this analysis, is Mississippi, followed in order by Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Here are how the researchers describe their findings, including how the “loose/tight” designation seems to correlate with other things, including stability and happiness:

Consistent with theory and past research, ecological and man-made threats — such as higher incidence of natural disasters, greater disease prevalence, fewer natural resources, and greater degree of external threat — predicted increased tightness at the state level.

Tightness is also associated with higher trait conscientiousness and lower trait openness, as well as a wide array of outcomes at the state level. Compared with loose states, tight states have higher levels of social stability, including lowered drug and alcohol use, lower rates of homelessness, and lower social disorganization.

However, tight states have higher incarceration rates, greater discrimination and inequality, lower creativity and lower happiness relative to loose states.