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Political Engagement and Cognitive Health Lab

More lab details and project descriptions coming soon!

If you are a UTEP student looking to get involved in research in the lab, please fill out this Google Form and/or email Dr. Baker. 

Current and Incoming Students: 

Juan Saldaña (political science undergraduate student)

Darek Perez (psychology undergraduate student)

Cristina Tavera (psychology undergraduate student)

Alexa Valeria Garcia (psychology undergraduate student)

Alumni: 

Jaime Carbajal (PhD student, University of Texas at Austin)

Cayleb Stives (PhD student, University of Colorado Boulder)

The Political Engagement and Cognitive Health Lab at the University of Texas at El Paso tackles research questions at the intersection of mental well-being and politics. Housed in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, research in the lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to answering questions on how the mental wellbeing (i.e. cognitive and mental health) of individuals is related to their engagement with politics. 

Selected ongoing projects

How do mental well-being interventions influence political engagement? 

This project integrates techniques from political science, cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, and positive psychology to understand how interventions to improve cognitive/mental health affect individuals' cognitive load and their engagement with politics, whether it be desire to engage, intent to engage, (mental) capacity to engage, or actual engagement behavior. The foundation of this work argues that (not explicitly political) stress weighs on a person's mental wellbeing, taking away mental resources necessary for engagement with politics. This is especially true for people living below the poverty line and racial and ethnic minorities who experience regular additional stressors such as poverty, racism, and discrimination. Two overarching goals of this work include understanding the link between cognitive health and political engagement and the development and testing of interventions that can be used in the community to boost political engagement.

How is cognitive well-being (and stress) related to engagement with misinformation?

This project focuses on whether stress takes away mental resources that could otherwise be used to make 'smarter' information consumption decisions. When people are overloaded with stress, their executive function is weakened, and it is harder to 1) distinguish between reliable information and misinformation and 2) put effort into fact-checking information in some way. This project uses cognitive psychology tasks, survey experiments, and psychophysiology measures (e.g. skin conductance) to better understand how stress influences the mental resources necessary to navigate political information.

How is mental health related to political attitudes? Is the relationship dependent on emotional states?

This project expands the resource-based model of political engagement to include mental resources as an important resource necessary for a person to engage with politics and form political attitudes. Since mental health issues often occur together (e.g. depression and anxiety) and/or with negative affect more generally (e.g. anger, sadness), a cohesive look at the role of mental health issues and emotions will better explain how poor cognitive health influences political attitudes. This project uses a large (N > 100,000) representative dataset spanning over the COVID-19 pandemic and a federal election to look at the relationship between self-perceived mental health, emotional states, and various political attitudes (e.g. policy preferences, views on pandemic lockdowns, issue importance during an election) and behaviors (e.g. adherence to pandemic restrictions, voting during a federal election). 

How does trait level anxiety affect engagement with political information and the expression of attitudes? 

This project builds off of prior work showing that state anxiety increases information consumption, arguing that trait anxiety, or the baseline level of anxiety a person has regardless of context, is a main driver of how people engage with political information and what types of information with which they engage. Surveys, experiments, and cognitive psychology tasks are used to show how the link between individual levels traits influence the experience of contextual emotions, which in turn influence political engagement in differential ways. 

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