Proximal Versus Distal Ecological Stress: Socio-Ecological Influences on Political Freedom, Well-Being, and Societal Confidence in 159 Nations


  • Lucian Gideon Conway
  • Linus Chan
  • Shailee R. Woodard
  • Mohsen Joshanloo


Previous work from a socio-ecological perspective reveals that ecological stress has important effects on political, cultural, and psychological outcomes. However, that work has been limited by (1) a focus on distal forms of ecological stress that are hard for societies to control, and (2) a lack of large-scale conceptual replications. The present study aims to fill in these gaps by simultaneously testing the effects of both more distal ecological stress (e.g., climate) and more proximal ecological stress (e.g., water quality) on political restriction, political freedom, well-being, and societal confidence measurements. In a sample from the Gallup World Poll spanning over one and a half million participants and 159 nations, we found that while both kinds of ecological stress measurements predicted greater vertical political restriction, reduced horizontal political restriction, reduced well-being, and reduced freedom, only proximal forms of ecological stress predicted a loss in societal confidence. These results not only provide key conceptual replications of prior studies on new data, they also add previously unstudied outcomes and new ecological stressors. As a result, they help us better understand contributing factors to key societal issues such as freedom, well-being, and societal confidence.