Published Research (Political Science)

The Dynamics of Social Identity: Evidence from Deliberating Groups

Political Psychology


The last three decades have seen increased affective polarization in the American public, as social identification with a political party leads Americans to hate and fear members of the other party. Yet, over the same period, the public‐deliberation movement reports remarkable success in bringing together politically diverse groups of people for substantively rich and mutually respectful discussions of political issues. I argue that deliberative minipublics succeed in an era of heightened partisanship because the deliberative process creates a new object for social identification, the deliberating group itself. Identification with the deliberating group reduces the salience of other social identities, especially partisan social identity, and encourages behaviors consistent with the new identity, such as listening respectfully and compromising. While the process of public deliberation is in many ways extraordinary, these results suggest that scholars should pay more attention to how the effect of social identities on politics is fluid and context dependent as well as how the content of these identities is constructed and reconstructed by political processes.

Does Group Deliberation Mobilize? The Effect of Public Deliberation on Willingness to Participate in Politics

Political Behavior


with Hunter G. Gordon, Susan Dorr Goold, Hyungjin Myra Kim, and Zachary Rowe

Proponents of public deliberation suggest that engaging in deliberation increases deliberators’ subsequent participation in other forms of politics. We evaluate this “deliberative participation hypothesis” using data drawn from a deliberative field experiment in which members of medically underserved communities in Michigan deliberated in small groups about the design of that state’s Medicaid program. Participants were randomly assigned to deliberate about the program in a group or to think about the decision individually, and then completed a post-survey that included measures of willingness to engage in a variety of political acts. We measured willingness to engage in common forms of political participation, as well as willingness to participate in particularistic resistance to adverse decisions by insurance bureaucracies. Contrary to the claims of much of the existing literature, we find no impact of deliberation on willingness to engage in political participation. These results suggest that the ability of public deliberation to increase broader political engagement may be limited or may only occur in particularly intensive, directly empowered forms of public deliberation.

Political Deliberation and the Common Knowledge Effect

Journal of Deliberative Democracy


Deliberation depends on the ability of deliberators to learn from each other through the exchange of information. However, the Common Knowledge Effect (CKE) finding, a well-established phenomenon affecting small-group discussion, shows that when people talk in groups they tend to ignore novel information and instead discuss commonly known information; things that everyone knew before discussion started. Some theorists have worried that the CKE makes small group discussion - one of the most common features of recent democratic innovations - a poor tool for making deliberative democracy a reality. However, most research on the CKE is limited to situations where group members share a common goal or interest, while political deliberation generally happens in situations where citizens have at least some conflicting interests. This paper looks for evidence of the CKE in two group-discussion experiments where subjects had partially conflicting interests, ultimately finding find no evidence of this effect. Scholars of deliberation frequently view conflicting interests as an obstacle to the success of deliberation; this result suggests that conflicting interests may, in fact, enhance deliberation by reducing the overreliance on commonly-known information.

Interests, Information, and Minority Influence in Deliberation

Journal of Politics


The ability of citizens to advance arguments and have them considered fairly is essential to the equality and epistemic quality of deliberative institutions. This article builds on game-theoretic models of strategic information transmission to offer a theory of how the interests that deliberators have in the outcome of deliberation can reduce the influence of some citizens in deliberative process. Specifically, this article argues that the influence of an argument depends on whether the deliberator making the argument is in the majority or minority in terms of her interests in the outcome of deliberation. An argument made by a member of the minority will be less influential than the same argument made by a member of the majority. We offer the first empirical test of this kind of model in realistic deliberative conditions using a laboratory experiment and a field experiment and find support for this theory.

The Influence of Emotion on Trust

Political Analysis


with Dustin Tingley

Political scientists frequently wish to test hypotheses about the effects of specific emotions on political behavior. However, commonly used experimental manipulations tend to have collateral effects on emotions other than the targeted emotion, making it difficult to ascribe outcomes to any single emotion. In this letter, we propose to address this problem using causal mediation analysis. We illustrate this approach using an experiment examining the effect of emotion on dyadic trust, as measured by the trust game. Our findings suggest that negative emotions can decrease trust, but only if those negative emotions make people feel less certain about their current situation. Our results suggest that only anxiety, a low-certainty emotion, has a negative impact on trust, whereas anger and guilt, two emotions that differ in their control appraisals but induce the same high level of certainty, appear to have no effect on trusting behavior. Importantly, we find that failing to use causal mediation analysis would ascribe a positive effect of anxiety on trust, demonstrating the value of this approach.

Participation and Punishment

Journal of Theoretical Politics


Studies have demonstrated that altruistic punishment can motivate pro-social behavior in settings that require group cooperation. This paper extends these findings to the voter participation game. Using a laboratory experiment we find that some subjects are willing to punish abstainers and that punishment increases participation. However, not all subjects respond to punishment equally. We find that punishment increases turnout more among subjects with a egoist social value orientation (SVO) than among subjects with a pro-social SVO. This suggests that increased opportunities for altruistic punishment do not just increase participation, but may also change the composition of the electorate.

Learning from Others: An Experimental Test of Brownian Motion Uncertainty Models

Journal of Theoretical Politics


With David Glick

Models of decision-making with outcome uncertainty are common in political science and related fields. Recent work in flagship journals has challenged canonical work by modeling outcome uncertainty as Brownian motion. This theoretical innovation has resonated because it is highly tractable and captures intuitively important realities of many decisions in ways that earlier models cannot. As theoretically attractive as the new models are, they have not yet been evaluated empirically. This is especially important because Brownian motion models place actors in more cognitively demanding situations than previous models. We offer what we believe to be the first experimental test of actors’ ability to behave in ways consistent with the Brownian motion model by evaluating subjects’ ability to rationally learn from another actor’s experiences. We show that subjects adjust their actions in response to the Brownian motion uncertainty. However, they deviate from optimal behavior in important ways, particularly in more complex situations.

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Published Research (Other)
Working Papers