Themes of Self-Regulation and Self-Exploration in the Life Stories of Religious American Conservatives and Liberals



A sample of 128 highly religious (Christian) midlife American adults completed a series of attitudinal and personality trait measures and narrated 12 important autobiographical scenes in their life stories. Individuals high on self-reported political conservatism tended to accentuate the theme of self-regulation in their life stories, repeatedly describing important autobiographical scenes wherein they struggled to control, discipline, manage, restrain, protect, or preserve the self. By contrast, individuals high on political liberalism tended to emphasize the theme of self-exploration, telling stories about expanding, discovering, articulating, or fulfilling the self. Demographics and dispositional traits (especially openness to experience) showed significant associations with conservatism-liberalism, as well, but these variables did not mitigate the robust relationship between life-narrative themes and political orientation. The results are discussed in terms of a broadened understanding of personality that conceives of dispositional traits and narrative identity as comprising distinct layers and complementary features of psychological individuality, both implicated in political lives.