Speciation Among Liberals and Conservatives

David Sloan Wilson in The Huffington Post (via bookforum):

Thousands of American high school students had participated nationwide by providing extensive background information and being beeped for a week, for roughly 50 snapshots of their individual experience.

With this as our “field study,” we began to think about altruism and other do-good behaviors as a strategy that can succeed in some environments but not others. That story is recounted in a chapter titled “The Ecology of Good and Evil” in my book Evolution for Everyone. Then, with my graduate student Ingrid Storm, we decided to make an even finer comparison between youth belonging to liberal and conservative Protestant denominations.

Get this: Everyone in our sample was an American, a teenager, and belonged to the same major religious tradition of Protestantism. In these respects they were culturally uniform. But some belonged to conservative denominations such as Pentecostal and others to liberal denominations such as Episcopalian. As Ingrid combed through the data, which involved tedious hours in front of the computer, the differences that began to emerge were astounding. It was as if these conservative and liberal religious youth were–different species.

For example, two questions that were asked as part of the background information were “Do you think of yourself as a religious person?” and “In your family, do you express opinions even when they differ?” The more liberals agreed with the first question, the more they agreed with the second. The more conservatives agreed with the first question, the less they agreed with the second. Their religions were pulling them in completely different directions.