Projects

The most recent version of my CV can be found here. Abstracts and links to my publications and pre-prints of select working papers can be found below.

My research sits broadly within political psychology and political behavior. I put a great deal of focus on research questions about how emotions and affective entities influence political attitudes and behavior. I employ mostly experimental methods in order to address political cognition and how individuals process their political worlds. 

My dissertation focuses on emotions; more specifically, I look at what types of people experience political anxiety and how these experiences of anxiety differentially influence political engagement and participation. I argue that individual differences affecting subconscious and conscious attention to politics operate as selection mechanisms into experiencing situations that may induce political anxiety. Because of this, anxiety will not influence political behavior uniformly. I use a variety of experimental methods in addition to surveys to address the theoretical questions in my dissertation including selection experiments, physiological methods, and cognitive behavioral tasks. A pre-print from part of my dissertation can be found here

I have a handful of other projects in more advanced stages that mostly center around emotion and perception and their effects on opinions and attitudes more broadly. These other projects include the role of emotion in aggressive responses to moral transgressions against political groups, how biological attribution of ideology influences prejudice and intolerance, how political appointments of someone accused of sexual assault influence perceptions of threats to women's rights, the role of unstable high self-esteem in aggression and support for political violence, how framing of information contributes to willingness to punish political leaders, and the effects of ideological extremism on perception of one's own ideology and how this differentially affects voting behavior based on electoral system context. 

I have training in a wide variety of methodological techniques including experimental design, advanced design-based causal inference, physiological measures, neuroscience techniques, and statistical learning. 

Publications

Political Uncertainty Moderates Neural Evaluation of Incongruent Policy Positions (Link) (Pre-print)

With Ingrid J. Haas and Frank J. Gonzalez

Abstract: Uncertainty has been shown to impact political evaluation, yet the exact mechanisms by which uncertainty affects the minds of citizens remain unclear. This experiment examines the neural underpinnings of uncertainty in political evaluation using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During fMRI, participants completed an experimental task where they evaluated policy positions attributed to hypothetical political candidates. Policy positions were either congruent or incongruent with candidates' political party affiliation and presented with varying levels of certainty. Neural activity was modelled as a function of uncertainty and incongruence. Analyses suggest that neural activity in brain regions previously implicated in affective and evaluative processing (anterior cingulate cortex, insular cortex) differed as a function of the interaction between uncertainty and incongruence, such that activation in these areas was greatest when information was both certain and incongruent, and uncertainty influenced processing differently as a function of the valence of the attached information. These findings suggest that individuals are attuned to uncertainty in the stated issue positions of politicians, and that the neural processing of this uncertainty is dependent on congruence of these positions with expectations based on political party identification. Implications for the study of emotion and politics and political cognition are discussed.

Who Can Deviate from the Party Line? Political Ideology Moderates Evaluation of Incongruent Policy Positions in the Insula and Anterior Cingulate Cortex (Link)

With Ingrid J. Haas and Frank J. Gonzalez

Abstract: Political polarization at the elite level is a major concern in many contemporary democracies, which is argued to alienate large swaths of the electorate and prevent meaningful social change from occurring, yet little is known about how individuals respond to political candidates who deviate from the party line and express policy positions incongruent with their party affiliations. This experiment examines the neural underpinnings of such evaluations using functional MRI (fMRI). During fMRI, participants completed an experimental task where they evaluated policy positions attributed to hypothetical political candidates. Each block of trials focused on one candidate (Democrat or Republican), but all participants saw two candidates from each party in a randomized order. On each trial, participants received information about whether the candidate supported or opposed a specific policy issue. These issue positions varied in terms of congruence between issue position and candidate party affiliation. We modeled neural activity as a function of incongruence and whether participants were viewing ingroup or outgroup party candidates. Results suggest that neural activity in brain regions previously implicated in both evaluative processing and work on ideological differences (insula and anterior cingulate cortex) differed as a function of the interaction between incongruence, candidate type (ingroup versus outgroup), and political ideology. More liberal participants showed greater activation to incongruent versus congruent trials in insula and ACC, primarily when viewing ingroup candidates. Implications for the study of democratic representation and linkages between citizens’ calls for social change and policy implementation are discussed.

 

Psychophysiology in Political Decision Making Research (Link)

With Matthew V. Hibbing and Kathryn A. Herzog

Abstract: In the last decade, political science has seen a rise in the use of physiological measures in order to inform theories about decision-making in politics. A commonly used physiological measure is skin conductance (electrodermal activity). Skin conductance measures the changes in levels of sweat in the eccrine glands, usually on the fingertips, in order to help inform how the body responds to stimuli. These changes result from the sympathetic nervous system (popularly known as the fight or flight system) responding to external stimuli. Due to the nature of physiological responses, skin conductance is especially useful when researchers hope to have good temporal resolution and make causal claims about a type of stimulus eliciting physiological arousal in individuals. Researchers interested in areas that involve emotion or general affect (e.g. campaign messages, political communication and advertising, information processing, general political psychology) may be especially interested in integrating skin conductance into their methodological toolbox. Skin conductance is a particularly useful tool since its implicit and unconscious nature means that it avoids some of the pitfalls that can accompany self-report measures (e.g. social desirability bias and inability to accurately remember/report emotions). Future decision-making research will benefit from pairing traditional self-report measures with physiological measures such as skin conductance.

Morality is Relative: Anger, Disgust and Aggression as Contingent Responses to Sibling versus Acquaintance Harm (Link)

With Lukas D. Lopez, Karie Moorman, Sara Schneider, and Colin Holbrook

Abstract: Angry reactions to moral violations should be heightened when wrongs befall oneself in comparison to when wrongs befall acquaintances, as prior research by Molho and colleagues (2017) demonstrates, because aggressive confrontation is inherently risky and therefore only incentivized by natural selection to curtail significant fitness costs. Here, in three pre-registered studies, we extend this sociofunctional perspective to cases of wrongs inflicted on siblings. We observed equivalently heightened anger in response to transgressions against either oneself or one’s sibling relative to transgressions against acquaintances across studies, whereas transgressions against acquaintances evoked greater disgust and/or fear (both associated with social avoidance) in two of the three studies. Studies 2 and 3, which incorporated measures of tendencies to confront the transgressor, confirmed that the elevated anger elicited by self or sibling harm partially mediated heightened inclinations toward direct aggression. Finally, in Study 3 we compared tendencies to experience anger and to directly aggress on behalf of siblings and close friends. Despite reporting greater affiliative closeness for friends than for siblings, harm to friends failed to evoke heightened anger relative to acquaintance harm, and participants were inclined to directly aggress against those who had harmed their sibling to a significantly greater extent than when the harm befell their friend. These overall results broadly replicate Molho et al.’s findings and theoretically extend the sociofunctionalist account of moral emotions to kinship.

In-Progress

Dissertation work:

Pre-print of one paper: https://psyarxiv.com/3se54

Full document abstract: This dissertation provides evidence that certain people are predisposed to experiencing anxiety over politics and these differential experiences determine how people engage with politics, especially political information. In the first chapter, I outline a theoretical argument that some people are more susceptible to experiencing anxiety over politics and have political anxiety impact their engagement with politics, especially information engagement. I argue that people who are high in trait anxiety, an inherent baseline anxiety, pay more attention to potentially threatening stimuli and information, therefore are more likely to experience anxiety over politics than people who are low in trait anxiety. These same high trait anxiety individuals are also more likely to be influenced by political anxiety than low trait anxiety individuals, such that high trait anxiety individuals will engagement with a higher amount of political information as a result of experiencing anxiety over politics.

I test this argument with a series of three studies, each of which represented by an empirical chapter in this dissertation. In the first empirical chapter, I provide evidence that trait anxiety is related to paying more attention to politics with a representative survey. In the second empirical chapter, I use a cognitive behavioral task to provide evidence that trait anxiety is associated with more higher threat bias (i.e. cognitive attention towards potentially threatening images), an important link in demonstrating that people high in trait anxiety are predisposed to experiencing anxiety over politics. In the third empirical chapter, I use an experiment to show that individuals high in trait anxiety and individuals low in trait anxiety differentially choose to be in situations that could induce political anxiety. I also show that these choices mean people have different experiences under political anxiety; people who are high in trait anxiety seek out more threatening political information as a result of experiencing political anxiety and are more likely to want to contact their representatives about the information.

In the final chapter, I conclude the dissertation by tying together the first four chapters, suggesting future directions, and outlining theoretical and methodological contributions that have come out of this dissertation. The main theoretical contribution of this dissertation is the role of attention driven traits (e.g. trait anxiety) that predispose certain types of people to experience political anxiety. Previous work in political science has largely ignored the role of individual differences, an aspect of emotional experiences that I highlight. Methodologically, this is the first set of studies in my knowledge that uses a cognitive behavioral task and measures from clinical psychology to address individual differences and psychological mechanisms that predispose people to experience anxiety over politics. This is also the first time, to my knowledge, that a selection experiment has been used to allow people to engage with emotional political content in a more realistic setting within an experiment.

Ideology Attribution

Pre-print: https://psyarxiv.com/pkjh7/

Co-authored with Ingrid J. Haas

Abstract: Does attributing the roots of political ideology to biology influence political tolerance and how people feel about political outgroups? In this paper, we examine the effects of attributing political ideology to biology, as opposed to personal choices that are more malleable, on political prejudice, intolerance, and perceptions of political polarization. Using an experimental paradigm, we encouraged respondents to think about political ideology as either rooted in biology or as a personal choice that is not fixed. Results from two studies suggest that encouraging individuals to attribute political ideology to biology leads to decreased political prejudice, decreased political intolerance, and a perception of less political polarization.

Contextualizing Emotions

Funded by Center for Effective Global Action at UC Berkeley

This project examines how a person's psychological immune system (i.e. a person's ability to handle emotions) influences their political participation, particularly as a result of their economic situation. I argue that people who live below the poverty line have an overloaded psychological immune system due to extra stressors people above the poverty line do not experience (or at least experience less of). I plan to use an experiment a psychological intervention in a community sample that contextualizes emotions about events in one's life to help facilitate the mental and emotional capacity to participate in politics. This project will be reregistered on OSF before data collection and anticipated to run through the calendar year of 2021.

Ideological Extremity and Electoral Systems

Funded by New America

Ranked choice voting (RCV) presents a more complex information environment for voters. Instead of evaluating preferences based on two main choices in the more commonly used plurality voting, RCV requires voters to make many additional considerations including comparing multiple candidates to themselves as political participants and to multiple other candidates. I use Social Comparison Theory (SCT) to explain one way voters make evaluations and how this might change in complex information environments created by RCV. I argue that using ideological extremity as a cognitive shortcut is more difficult under RCV, which makes candidate preference formation and evaluation between candidates harder for a voter. Using a survey experiment, I find that extreme and moderate candidates are viewed equally as electable under RCV and plurality voting. I also find that liberals report being more ideologically extreme when faced with an ideologically extreme candidate. In both RCV and plurality voting, liberals also view moderate candidates as more electable than extreme candidates when faced with an extreme candidate. Conservatives were not similarly affected by ideological extremity. These results suggest that RCV does not create a unique opportunity for more extreme candidates to be elected and that liberals are differentially affected by ideological extremity.

Emotions, Aggression, and Morality

Co-authored with Lukas Lopez, Karie Mooreman, Sara Schneider, and Colin Holbrook

Materials available on OSF.

In this series of papers we look at how (inter)group status or personal ties influence how people react to moral transgressions. We expect that people will experience anger over a moral transgression that victimizes someone close to you (e.g. political ingroup member, familial tie) and experience disgust over a moral transgression that victimizes someone with whom you have weaker ties. These emotional reactions will determine what sort of response an individual has to the moral transgression. Anger will lead to direct aggression and disgust will lead to indirect aggression. These papers show the role of emotions in perceiving and responding to moral events and help us understand how aggression manifests itself related to these emotions. These results will have implications for intergroup relations in politics and in other social settings and understanding the situational context that leads to aggression and potentially politically charged violence.

Punishment of Political Leaders:

Co-authored with Peter D. Carey 

(Working paper linked in the title.)

Abstract: A leader’s ability to generate costs associated with deviating from an action is key to crisis bargaining. If a leader is unable to generate these costs, any statement made will be seen as cheap talk – information-less babble that can safely be ignored. One of the most often-cited ways for leaders to generate costs is to make statements to their domestic audiences. By making threats publicly, a leader is sending a signal that they intend to follow through and are willing to be punished politically if they renege. Within the logic of audience costs, however, lies a series of implicit assumptions about how the information about a threat gets from leaders to the audience, and how the audience translates information about a promise and subsequent reneging into political action. Empirically, these statements often reach the audience by way of the media – instead of hearing a statement directly from the leader, the audience learns of the statement and any subsequent change of course through the filter of the media. In most models, the media is implicitly assumed to be a neutral party – transferring either basic facts about the promises made and reneging and relying on the audience’s distaste for backing down to generate costs. However, this is often not the case: media organizations are independent actors with their own preferences and will report information accordingly. Using experimental evidence, we show that the way news of a broken promise framed has a significant effect on how members of the intended audience will react to it. If news of the promise is framed in a negative way, the basic logic of audience costs holds – members of the audience feel negatively about their leader backing down, have negative feelings towards their leader, and express less of a desire to vote for them in subsequent elections. Framing the news in a positive way, however, mitigates these potential costs. Respondents express much less negativity towards the leader and a lower likelihood of punishing them at the polls, relative to a neutral or negative frame. 

Controversial Judges and Women's Rights

Co-authored with Kayla S. Canelo

Abstract: The current political landscape has been plagued with controversial nominations to the federal
courts, including the United States Supreme Court. This includes the nomination and
confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, who faced accusations of sexual assault and Steven Menashi,
nominated to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who has been criticized for his previous
writings that are hostile to women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community. These controversies
are particularly concerning given the important role judges play in shaping policy pertaining to
individual rights. To date, we don’t know how the public perceives these controversial
appointments and whether they can make women in particular view their rights as being
threatened. In this paper we use a survey experiment to assess public attitudes towards the
nomination of controversial federal judges. We implement a survey experiment that varies the
gender of the nominee, whether they were accused of sexual misconduct, and the number of
accusers to access whether respondents will view the judge as a threat to the rights of certain
groups (especially women) and whether respondents feel the judge can still rule in a fair and
unbiased manner. We expect to find that women will be more likely to state their rights are in
jeopardy when a nominee for a federal judgeship has been accused of sexual assault. We find
that people, especially women, view judges who have been accused of sexual misconduct as a
threat to the rights of women.