Liberal and conservative Protestant denominations as different socioecological strategies

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  • Binghamton University State University of New York


It is common to portray conservative and liberal Protestant denominations as "strong" and "weak" on the basis of indices such as church attendance. Alternatively, they can be regarded as qualitatively different cultural systems that coexist in a multiple-niche environment. We integrate these two perspectives with a study of American teenagers based on both one-time survey information and the experience sampling method (ESM), which records individual experience on a moment-by-moment basis. Conservative Protestant youth were found to be more satisfied, family-oriented, and sociable than liberal Protestant youth, but also more dependent on their social environment, which is reflected in a deterioration of their mood when they are alone. Liberal Protestant youth appear to have internalized values that remain constant whether in the presence or absence of others. We relate these results to the social scientific literature on liberalism and conservatism and to evolutionary theory as a framework for explaining cultural systems as adaptations to multiple-niche environments.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • Conservatism, Evolutionary psychology, Liberalism, Protestantism, Religion, Socioecological strategies