Projects



A Group Among Many: Investigating the Impact of Changing National Demographics on White Identity and Intergroup Relations     Details
Description

Much of the existing research on inter-group conflict has focused on the causes and consequences of bias and discrimination of ethnic and racial minorities by majority white groups. Scholars have paid comparatively less attention to how changes in dominant-group members’ perceptions about their in-group, and the in-group’s position in society, affect inter-group behavior and policy preferences. Yet the rise of, for example, the Tea Party in the U.S., and ultra-right and nativist parties in Western European countries that pride themselves on their liberal sensibilities, point to the emergence (or re-emergence) of racial concerns and racial ideology in politics.
Social psychologist Eric Knowles aims to shed empirical light on the role of race and racial ideology in political behavior. In a recent study, Knowles (with collaborators at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania) found suggestive evidence that racial concerns played a role in support for Tea Party groups. Respondents in a small longitudinal survey of white adults showed that many subscribed to the idea that the nation is in decline, which in turn drew them to the Tea Party. Interestingly, the study found that whites that strongly identified with the Tea Party movement became more concerned with their racial identity over time—that is, although they may have joined the movement for race-neutral reasons, such as libertarianism or social conservatism, joining the Tea Party made being white more important to its members as a result of their group affiliation. These findings have implications for how we think about race, dominant racial group identity, and political choices.
Knowles will document the claims that exposure to demographic diversity reinforces in-group (white) identity, with significant (presumably negative) consequences for inter-group relations. He argues that, in order to understand the complex impact of demographic changes on white Americans’ inter-group attitudes, it is necessary to account for the effects of diversity on whites’ conception of their own racial status. According to this view, changes in white identity represent an important mediating mechanism between the experience of diversity and its effects. Knowles hypothesizes that increasing racial and ethnic diversity transforms whiteness from an identity often unnoticed by those who possess it into “one as subjectively ‘real’ as any other.”

Principal Investigators:
Eric Knowles
Funding Source:
Russell Sage Foundation

Alcohol and Gambling     Details
Description

Acute alcohol intake and its effects on risk perception in gambling situations are analyzed.

Principal Investigators:
Gabriele Oettingen and A. Timur Sevincer
Funding Source:
German Research Foundation.

Behavioral Decision Making     Details
Description

An established self-regulation strategy (i.e., mental contrasting with implementation intentions; summary by Oettingen, 2012) is used to instigate either slow (reflective) or fast (reflexive) decision making. It is then assessed for what type of decision problems one or the other style of making decisions is more conducive to arrive at selfish or fair decision outcomes.

Principal Investigators:
Peter Gollwitzer
Funding Source:
German Research Foundation

Does Education Cause Political Participation? A New Take On an Old Question     Details
Description

Why are some people more politically engaged and interested than others? This is one of the classic questions within political science. It has long been argued that education is crucial for explaining individual differences in political engagement. Recently, however, questions have been raised whether the well-established relationship between education and political engagement in whole or in part is explained by underlying factors that cause both the level of education and the willingness of individuals to exercise their rights as citizens. The problem with much of the previous research in this area is that it is based on research designs and methods unable to clearly establish whether the relationship between education and political participation is indeed causal. This project utilizes Swedish registry data to examine the relationship between education and political participation using two different methods. First, we will use the natural experiment based on Swedish school reforms. Second, we will use a twin design where we study the differences in education and political participation within twin pairs.

Principal Investigators:
Chris Dawes
Sven Oskarsson
Karl-Oskar Lindgren
David Cesarini
Funding Source:
Swedish Research Council (2013-2016)

Getting in and Through College with WOOP     Details
Description

The self-regulation strategy of mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII) is provided to high school students of disadvantaged background to facilitate the transition to college.

Principal Investigators:
Peter Gollwitzer and Gabriele Oettingen
Funding Source:
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Motivated Information Processing: A Policy Case     Details

Description
Why do people so often hold tight to their political attitudes, even in the face of contradictory evidence? This project focuses on the ways in which our goals and desires can shape how we evaluate, remember, and experience politically relevant information. Several policy issues in the United States today are highly contentious. Disagreement at times centers not on how best to tackle the problem, but on whether the problem exists. This project draws from several literatures to hypothesize that the motivation to protect the economic system in the United States may impact the way that individuals process information about policy issues.

System Justification Theory posits that individuals are motivated to defend, bolster, and justify the socioeconomic and political arrangements in which they live. This motivation is stronger in some people than others and can also be affected by situational factors. System justification is often beneficial in the short term, in that it alleviates the anxiety, uncertainty, and fear elicited by threats to the status quo. However, in the long term system justification can interfere with intentions or active attempts to correct system-level problems. Recent empirical evidence indicates that, to the extent that policy initiatives are seen as threatening to our economic competitiveness, individuals may be motivated to deny problems in order to maintain the societal status quo. This research has also demonstrated that ideological differences in policy attitudes between those who identify as partisans are at least partially due to individual differences in system justification motivation.

But how are policy beliefs maintained in the face of contrary evidence? Recently, political scientists have begun to explore the possibility that the way we interpret political information is driven largely by motivational forces. In this dissertation, I explore the hypothesis that system justification motivation biases processing of policy evidence. Using surveys, qualitative data, and experimental methods collected from diverse samples across the United States, I examine the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms by which system justification motivation operates. Specifically, I explore how the public processes information, both in their day-to-day lives and when exposed directly to new information. Using knowledge gleaned from these studies, I will then explore potential interventions to help individuals overcome the effects of system justification motivation and redirect them toward more accurate processing of policy information.

This research integrates theory and methods from political science and social psychology. In doing so, it aims to make basic and applied contributions to the political information processing, motivated cognition, system justification, and policy attitudes literatures. First, it aspires to offer a more nuanced consideration of the psychological underpinnings of political identification in order to better understand ideological and partisan variability in resistance to change. Second, this research hopes to demonstrate that cognition may be affected by situational, system-serving needs rather than merely the desire to maintain one?s own prior beliefs or the beliefs of one?s social groups. Third, it offers a political psychological account for the ineffectiveness of policy education and programs to address disagreement.

Principal Investigators:
Erin Hennes (Psychology)
John T. Jost (Psychology and Politics)
Funding Source:
National Science Foundation Award # SES-1226944

Schooled in Democracy? The Effects on Political Equality of Two School Reforms     Details
Description

Promoting young peoples’ ability to think and act democratically has been a key objective of the Swedish education policy throughout the postwar period. During this period the Swedish education policy was also marked by a clear ideal of social equality. The argument that equal access to education for children from different social backgrounds should generate equal opportunities later in life has been central to many of the educational reforms that have been implemented over the last century. Much of the research into the effects of educational reforms has focused on how changes in the education system have affected social equality in various aspects such as recruitment to higher education, occupation, and income. However, there is only limited research on how school reforms have impacted political equality in society.

This project aims to fill the knowledge gap that exists about the effects of different educational reforms on political equality. We will study the extent to which two of major education reforms in Sweden, the compulsory school reform in 1962 and the high school reform in 1991, helped to reduce the differences in political participation between individuals with different social backgrounds. This will be done with both statistical analysis based on the unique Swedish registry data and qualitative interviews with individuals who were subject to these reforms.

Principal Investigators:
Chris Dawes
Sven Oskarsson
Karl-Oskar Lindgren
David Cesarini
Josefina Erikson
Funding Source:
Swedish Research Council (2013-2017)

Social Media and Political Participation     Details
Description
The SMaPP team is working on an interdisciplinary research project that has been funded by the NYU Research Investment Fund and the INSPIRE program of the National Science Foundation. The project is entitled “Computer Learning of Dynamical Systems to Investigate Cognitive and Motivational Effects of Social Media Use on Political Participation.”

Our goals are fourfold:
  1. To formalize and test a dynamic, integrative theory of the cognitive and motivational effects of social media on political participation;
  2. To design computer programs to extract meaningful slices of data from existing social media platforms such as Twitter;
  3. To identify “best practices” with respect to techniques for culling, analyzing, and annotating complex social network data and to apply these practices in our research (e.g., by focusing on single events and scaling upward to handle extremely large samples of events and participants);
  4. To offer definitive empirical conclusions concerning the causal mechanisms by which social media affects political participation (by integrating the use of original panel surveys and data from social media sources).
Principal Investigators:
Richard Bonneau (Biology/Computer Science)
John T. Jost (Psychology and Politics)
Jonathan Nagler (Politics)
Joshua Tucker (Politics and Russian and Slavic Studies)
Funding Source:
National Science Foundation Award # SES-1248055

The Foundations of Political Behavior     Details
Description

Individuals differ in their levels of trust and in their social and risk preferences. This project explores how these differences matter for the classic outcomes of political behavior: participation, policy and party preferences, and partisanship. Using a series of laboratory experiments and surveys in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, we show that basic differences between individuals structure their political behavior. Citizens who exhibit greater social preferences are more likely to vote. Citizens who are more risk loving are less supportive of redistributive policies, while citizens who are more trusting of government are more supportive. And the partisanship to which citizens adhere varies with their social preferences and their levels of trust.

Principal Investigators:
Chris Dawes
Peter Loewen
Raymond Duch
Funding Source:
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2011 - 2014)

The Mental Link of Future and Reality as Mediator of Mental Contrasting Effects on Energization and Behavior     Details
Description

Processes mediating the effects of the self-regulation strategy of mental contrasting of future and reality on behavior change are analyzed.

Principal Investigators:
Gabriele Oettingen
Funding Source:
German Research Foundation.

The Self-regulation of Decision-relevant Modes of Thought     Details
Description

The research supported by this grant analyzes whether implementation intentions (if-then plans) can be used to promote deliberative mindsets thus arriving at thoughtful decisions. Different decision making paradigms are employed reaching from the ultimatum game, to sunk cost situations and negotiation tasks (e.g., sharing common goods).

Principal Investigators:
Peter Gollwitzer
Funding Source:
German Research Foundation

When and How Moral Beliefs Give Purpose to Moral Action: A Dynamic Model of Moral Decision-making     Details
Description

For decades, psychologists believed that moral action was determined by conscious reasoning. Recently, theorists have argued that moral intuitions are automatically triggered and enacted prior to conscious reasoning. We offer a potential reconciliation of these two perspectives. We propose that: (1) moral beliefs affect decision-making and action; (2) these beliefs are not necessarily automatically activated, but are influential when people operate in a moral mindset—which can be adopted intentionally; and (3) these beliefs influence attentional processes, which can increase their influence on behavior. In sum, moral mindsets increase the strength with which conscious moral beliefs predict action. In alternative mindsets, moral beliefs may go unexpressed.

Principal Investigators:
Jay Van Bavel (with Michael Gill and Dominic Packer)
Funding Source:
John Templeton Foundation.

Youth Vocational Training and Conflict Mitigation: An Experimental Test of Social Contact Theory in Nigeria     Details

The project asks the following question:

Can grassroots-level interventions that increase contact between members of groups in conflict improve inter-group relations? We propose an education-based field experiment – the Urban Youth Vocational Training Project (UYVT) – to test whether sustained contact between members of groups in conflict can reduce prejudice and discrimination, increase cooperation, and reduce participation in and support for violence. We will implement the UYVT program in Kaduna and Jos, two cities in northern Nigeria that have experienced deadly Christian-Muslim riots over the past decade, resulting in residential segregation and diminished social contact across religious lines.

The project will involve the following field-based research:

We will create a business and computer training program that will allow us to structure sustained interactions over a period of four months for a sample of 800 Christians and Muslims in Kaduna and Jos. To evaluate whether there is a causal relationship between participation in the UYVT program and changes in inter-group attitudes and behavior, recruitment into the program and assignment to classrooms, learning partners and instructors will be randomized. We will embed the UYVT program within a carefully designed research project that includes detailed pre-program data collection on participants and control group members, in-depth qualitative observation of participants during the program itself, post-treatment data collection, and a six-month follow-up survey with program participants and the control group.

Principal Investigators:
Alexandra Scacco (Assistant Professor, Politics) and Shana Warren (Ph.D. candidate, Politics)
Funding Source:
United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Grant No. 12031.