I study the communicative processes that contribute to, and those that might ameliorate, group-based polarization. Much of this work examines the effects of new political institutions inspired by deliberative democratic theory. I am also interested in experimental methods and causal inference in political science. My research has appeared in the Journal of Politics, Political Analysis, Political Behavior, the Journal of Theoretical Politics, the Journal of Public Deliberation, and the Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology.

Published Research (Political Science)

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

(Political Behavior - 2020)


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 Public Deliberation - 2018)


Deliberation depends on the ability of deliberators to learn from each other through the exchange of information. Yet the Common Knowledge Effect (CKE), a well-established phenomenon of small-group discussion, shows that when people talk in groups they tend to ignore novel information and instead discuss information everyone knew before discussion started. Some theorists have worried that the CKE makes small group discussion a poor tool for deliberative democracy. 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. Building on recent research on motivated information processing in groups, I offer a theoretical account for why conflicting interests might help groups engaged in political discussion to overcome the CKE. I then use two experiments to test whether the CKE is present in groups with conflicting interests and finding no evidence of the. These results suggest that conflicting interests, which are frequently viewed as an obstacle to the success of deliberation, may, in fact, enhance deliberation by motivating more thorough information search.


Interests, Information, and Minority Influence in Deliberation

(Journal of Politics - 2017)


The ability of citizens to advance arguments and have them considered fairly is essential to the equality and epistemic quality of deliberative institutions. But is this generally true? This paper 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 paper 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 arguments made by a member of the minority will be less influential than the same argument made by a member of the majority. I conduct 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.


Participation and Punishment

(Journal of Theoretical Politics - 2016)

Why do people vote, given that a single vote rarely makes the difference in an election? This paper argues that "altruistic punishment," or tendency of humans to punish norm violators even when such punishment is individually irrational, can offer a partial answer to this question. Using a laboratory experiment we find that some subjects are willing to punish those who abstain from voting and that punishment increases participation. However, this punishment affects subjects differently - pro-social subjects participate regardless of whether punishment is possible, while egoist subjects only participate when threatened with punishment Thus, altruistic punishment does not just increase participation but also changes the composition of the electorate, ironically making it less pro-social.

The Influence of Emotion on Trust (w/ Dustin Tingley)

(Political Analysis - 2016)

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. 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 negative, such as anxiety, that make people feel less certain about their current situation. 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.

Learning from others: an experimental test of Brownian motion uncertainty models (w/ David Glick)

(Journal of Theoretical Politics - 2015)

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.

Political Deliberation (w/ Tali Mendelberg)

(Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology - 2013)

Deliberation plays an important role in a number of political institutions and is also an increasingly common way that citizens participate in politics. This chapter reviews political psychology research on small-group deliberation, focusing on three clusters of variables: the context in which deliberation takes place, the process by which deliberation proceeds, and the outcomes that deliberation produces. The existing literature shows that deliberation can have meaningful effects on important outcome variables like policy attitudes, citizen knowledge, and subsequent political engagement. However, research on how the context and process of deliberation produce these outcomes is still in its infancy. This chapter argues that as the political psychology literature on deliberation matures, it must pay more attention to process and context questions, in large part because the normative value of deliberation depends less on what the outcomes of deliberation are than on how those outcomes are produced.

Published Research (Other Journals)

How Would Low-Income Communities Prioritize Medicaid Spending?

(Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law - 2020)

Medicaid plays a critical role in low-income, minority, and medically under-served communities, particularly in states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet, these communities’ voices are often unheard in decisions about how to allocate Medicaid’s scarce resources.

We involved 209 residents of low-income and medically underserved communities in Michigan in discussions about the priority-setting decisions made by Medicaid using an exercise in informed deliberation, CHAT (CHoosing All Together). Participants learned about Medicaid, deliberated in small groups, and set priorities individually and as a group.

Participants prioritized broad eligibility consistent with the ACA expansion, accepted some cost-sharing, and prioritized spending in some areas, such as mental health, that have historically received less funding. Participants allocated less funding outside of benefit coverage, such as spending on healthy communities. This process could be adapted in other states to inform the design of Medicaid programs and evaluate their effectiveness.


Evaluating community deliberations about health research priorities (w/ Susan Goold and others)

(Health Expectations - Forthcoming)


Decisions about health research priorities are shaped by scientists, clinicians, advocacy groups and the private sector, but rarely by lay citizens, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. Deliberative engagement offers a way to engage these communities and include their voices in priority setting. However, priorities for health research spending can seem like an esoteric topic remote from the lived experience of non-experts. Whether deliberative engagement can produce high quality deliberation on this topic remains an open question. To address this, we evaluate deliberation about health research priority setting in 47 groups in the state of Michigan. We use a framework that examines the formal structure of deliberation (how it is organized), the process of deliberation (how it transpires) and the outcomes produced. In addition, we conducted follow-up interviews to explore the long-term effects of deliberation. We find that deliberations using a structured group exercise to engage minority and underserved community members in setting health research priorities met some important criteria for a fair, credible process that could inform policy. Deliberations appeared to change some opinions, improved some knowledge, and were judged by participants worth using to inform policymakers.


Members of Minority and Underserved Communities Set Priorities for Health Research (w/ Susan Goold and others)

(Milbank Quarterly - 2018)


A major contributor to health disparities is the relative lack of resources—including resources for science—allocated to address the health problems of those with disproportionately greater needs. Engaging and involving underrepresented communities in setting research priorities could make the scientific research agenda more equitable, more just, and more responsive to their needs and values. We adapted the simulation exercise CHAT for setting health research priorities and engaged minority and underserved communities in informed deliberations.  After deliberation, these communities overwhelmingly prioritized mental health and child health research, while deprioritizing research on health policy, culture and beliefs, and improving research methods.


Priorities for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research: The Views of Minority and Underserved Communities (w/ Susan Goold and others)

(Health Service Research - 2017)


The movement to focus on patient-centered outcomes in health care is based on a belief that doctors should incorporate patient’s priorities into care decisions. At a policy level, this suggests that policy makers, scientists, and clinicians should engage the lay public on questions of how to set priorities for health research. Yet low levels of public knowledge mean that how to engage communities in priority setting has been a challenge. Deliberative methods of community engagement offer one solution. In this project we adapted an existing deliberation exercise, CHAT (CHoosing All Together), to facilitate deliberation about PCOR priorities. Sixteen groups consisting of 183 people from minority and underserved communities used this tool to engage in a process of learning and discussion. The results place a high prioritiy on research in the areas of  quality of Llfe, special needs, patient-doctor relationships, and comparative effectiveness. These results show the value of using deliberative methods to engage the public on priority settings even in technical areas like health research spending.


Community Deliberation to Build Local Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation: The Rural Climate Dialogues Program (w/ Tara Ritter and Andrew Rockway)

(Climate Change Adaptation in North America - 2017)

Apathy and skepticism about climate change makes getting citizens involved in climate adaptation planning difficult in rural areas of the US. The Rural Climate Dialogue program uses deliberative public engagement to overcome these obstacles. A Rural Climate Dialogue (RCD) convenes a demographically and politically representative group of residents for three days of deliberation about the local impacts of climate change and about how their community can adapt. Following the Citizens Jury model, participants hear expert testimony and deliberate together to identify parts of their community that are threatened by climate change and figure out how to enhance their community’s climate resilience. This paper reports on case studies of RCDs in three Minnesota communities, finding that RCDs reduce skepticism about climate change and spur collective action by setting clear, public goals and building support for direct involvement from community leaders and public officials. This success suggests that deliberative public engagement can be a useful tool for adaptation planning in rural communities and other areas where apathy and skepticism are significant barriers.


Working Papers
Issues vs. Groups: Measuring the Content of Partisan Stereotypes


Given the increasing prominence of social-identity explanations for the role of partisanship in political behavior, understanding how people perceive political parties as social groups is essential. We propose a new way of measuring group stereotypes that uses a conjoint experiment This experiment presents subjects with a list of characteristics of a hypothetical voter and then asks them how typical this person is of members of one of the two major political parties. This method offers a flexibly framework for eliciting citizens’ perceptions of partisan groups and allows for testing the role that a range of attributes, from demographic characteristics to issue positions to political actions, play in forming partisan stereotypes. We use this method to measure stereotypes of partisans in two experiments. Contrary to the expectations of social-group focused theories of parties, we find that party stereotypes are dominated by ideological labels and positions on high-profile political issues.


The Effect of Counter-Stereotypical Partisan Exemplars on Partisan Stereotypes and Affective Polarization


An extensive literature in psychology and communications documents the effect of stereotypical and counter-stereotypical exemplars, individual members of a group presented in a way that casts them as representative of that group, on inter-group attitudes and beliefs. We build on this work by examining the effect of partisan exemplars on attitudes and beliefs about out-partisans. We present experimental subjects with either ideologically stereotypical or ideologically counter-stereotypical exemplars of the party they do not identify with. We evaluate the effect of these exemplars on stereotypes of and affect towards out-partisans. The results suggest that counter-stereotypical exemplars can moderate stereotypes of partisan ideology and improve affect towards the out-party. These results have important implications for understanding how the media shape partisan stereotypes, and also suggest methods for reducing inter-partisan animosity.


Social Identity in Deliberating Groups


Deliberative mini-publics place high demands on an increasingly polarized public, yet activists in the public deliberation movement report remarkable success at bringing together politically diverse groups to discuss policy issues in a productive and civil manner. We argue that public deliberation succeeds because the deliberative process provides participants with an alternative source of social identification. As deliberators talk and work together towards a common goal, they come to see the deliberating group as a coherent social category and object of identification, reducing the salience of other social identities, such as partisanship. We examine this claim using qualitative data from three Citizens’ Juries on climate change. In each jury, deliberation produced a strong sense of identification with the group, including norms that defined prototypical behavior and that differentiated the group from other political process. This identification allowed jurors to discuss climate change across political lines and agree on a set of recommendations.


Storytelling and Inter-Group Relations


Understanding the experiences of others, particularly out-group members, is important for a functioning democracy. Some theorists have argued that telling stories, messages that use plot, characters, and narrative suspense to make a point, can be a powerful tool for communicating diverse perspectives and building mutual understanding across group lines. Parallel to these arguments, an extensive literature in communications and psychology suggests that stories are processed differently than other messages, in a way that makes them particularly conducive to communicating experience. This literature shows that audiences process messages structured as stories by mentally simulating the events and experiences described in the story from the perspective of the story’s characters. This process of sharing in the experiences of characters, in particular characters from groups other than one’s own, might improve intergroup attitudes. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of stories at improving intergroup attitudes using an experiment that manipulates whether a newspaper article opens with an anecdotal lead, a brief story about an individual affected by the events described in the article. We find no effect of including an anecdotal lead on a variety of dependent variables, suggesting that storytelling in a political context may have limited effects.


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