Publications

The rhetoric of populist politicians is an important part of their appeal; however, little is known about how that rhetoric operates. Drawing on two large experiments conducted with American adults, we show that frames encouraging individuals to consider political problems in dispositional terms prompt populist expressions, while an encouragement to consider these same problems situationally does not. In our second experiment, we connect this framing change to voting intentions and find that subjects exposed to dispositional frames are more likely to express support for Donald Trump and less likely to express support for Hillary Clinton than subjects exposed to situational frames. We find the same pattern when we compare Bernie Sanders with Clinton but not when we compare Trump with Sanders. Importantly, the impact is contingent on preexisting populist attitudes; subjects with lower populist attitudes are more likely to demonstrate an increase in expressed populism and support for populist candidates.

Can exposure to media portrayals of human violence impact an individual’s ethical decision making at work? Ethical business failures can result in enormous financial losses to individuals, businesses, and society. We study how exposure to human violence—especially through media—can cause individuals to make less ethical decisions. We present three experiments, each showing a causal link between exposure to human violence and unethical business behavior, and show this relationship is mediated by an increase in individual hostility levels as a result of exposure to violence. Using observational data, we then provide evidence suggesting that this relationship extends beyond the context of our experiments, showing that companies headquartered in locations marked by greater human violence are more likely to fraudulently misstate their financial statements and exhibit more aggressive financial reporting. Combined, our results suggest that exposure to human violence has significant and real effects on an individual’s ethical decision making.

We know much about how opinion leaders drive mass partisan polarization with position-taking cues but little on how different message types polarize citizens, and who responds most to those messages attributes. This article contributes new insights by investigating how exposure to common violent metaphors interacts with audience personality traits to polarize partisans on issues. Building from research on conflict orientations, we theorize that aggressive rhetoric primes aggression in aggressive partisans, motivating greater intransigence on party positions. As a consequence, aggressive partisans are pulled further apart on issues, thereby reducing prospects for compromise. We find support for our predictions in two large nationally diverse survey experiments conducted in very different political contexts. Our results demonstrate the subtle power of aggression in public opinion and highlight the important moderating role of individual differences in the communication of partisan conflict.

Recent literature has shown that crosscutting social cleavages reduce the likelihood of civil war. This article argues that the same logic does not apply to lower-scale group violence such as riots, which differ in such a way that crosscutting social cleavages should often have the opposite effect, increasing both the frequency and scale of riots. We test this argument by analysing Muslim–Christian violence in the post-Suharto era, combining a new subnational data set of ethno-income and ethnogeographic crosscuttingness with a new and comprehensive subnational data set of violence in Indonesia. Our findings suggest that high ethno-income crosscuttingness, when combined with a high degree of urban anonymity and close living quarters, is a potent setting for inter-group communal violence. We conclude with a discussion of how context matters in understanding the effect of macrostructural variables such as crosscuttingness on violence.

In this chapter, we argue that regardless of one’s motivations, manipulations from political science experiments have political consequences and we are best served in answering the necessary ethical questions about these consequences if we are able to consider them, and their costs and benefits, sytematically. We propose a set of guidelines to assist researchers in this systematic consideration.

How do messages from political elites interact with individual traits of citizens to spur intergroup aggression? Building on research in social psychology, we expect that in places of protracted conflict, violent rhetoric from elites will be enough to mobilize antagonism toward an outgroup, especially among those who are generally less apt to be hostile toward the outgroup. We present results from two large survey experiments, the first conducted with young Jewish-Israeli adults across Israel and the second with a nationally diverse sample of adults in India. The results show that mild “fighting” words (e.g. “battle,” “fight”), combined with a reference to the outgroup, provoke significantly greater support for policies that harm the outgroup among some citizens. This effect is largest among individuals low in outgroup prejudice and low in aggressive personality traits, people who are usually less inclined to support policies that hurt the outgroup. Effects of violent rhetoric persist even with policies and rhetoric to help the outgroup. This work highlights the importance of considering both individual traits and contextual factors together to understand their full impact in the study of intergroup conflict.

Business managers regularly employ metaphorical violent rhetoric as a means of motivating their employees to action. While it might be effective to this end, research on violent media suggests that violent rhetoric might have other, less desirable consequences. This study examines how the use of metaphorical violent rhetoric by business managers impacts the ethical decision making of employees. We develop and test a model that explains how the use of violent rhetoric impacts employees’ willingness to break ethical standards, depending on the source of the rhetoric. The results of two experiments suggest that the use of violent rhetoric by a CEO at a competing company increases employees’ willingness to engage in ethical violations while the use of violent rhetoric by employees’ own CEO decreases their willingness to engage in unethical behavior. Furthermore, we find that participants who made less ethical decisions motivated by violent rhetoric used by a competitor’s CEO did not view their decisions as less ethical than the other participants in the experiments. The results of these studies highlight potentially harmful unintended consequences of the use of violent rhetoric, providing knowledge that should be useful to managers and academics who want to increase employee motivation without increasing a willingness to engage in unethical behavior.

Current approaches to humanizing members of an outgroup in contexts marked by protracted intergroup conflict see mixed success. In both Study 1, conducted on a random sample of Israeli Jews (N = 103), and Study 2, conducted on a nationally diverse sample of Israeli Jews (N = 670), we experimentally test the effect of a unique approach to humanizing the outgroup based on empathy. Instead of requiring individuals to express empathy for outgroup suffering they might have caused, this approach requires an expression of empathy for suffering unrelated to the conflict between the groups. Results suggest that such an expression of empathy from one group member toward the other group can lead to “reciprocal empathy” which facilitates a greater willingness to accept the humanity of all members of the other group.

This chapter deals with a classic, but unresolved, analytic puzzle: how should one conceptualize, or theorize, the role of the state in communal violence?

In this article, the authors bring together research on horizontal inequality, geographic dispersion of ethnic groups and crosscutting cleavages to present a more holistic theory of ethnic structure and civil war onset. The authors argue that rebel leaders are thwarted in their mobilization efforts in highly crosscutting societies due to a lower probability of potential combatants identifying with nationalist goals, decreased ability to exert social control, and diminished in-group communication. Using cross-national data from over 100 countries, the authors provide evidence that civil war onset is an average of nearly twelve times less probable in societies where ethnicity is crosscut by socioeconomic class, geographic region, and religion.

It has often been alleged, most recently in the recommendations of India’s National Advisory Council (NAC), that the Indian state promotes, or is complicit in, Hindu-Muslim violence for political or electoral reasons. But the evidence for the claim has historically been sketchy. In StevenWilkinson’s work, Votes and Violence, the argument is that the evidence supporting state complicity is systematic.We examine this argument and find it to be fundamentally flawed.

This dissertation has two main goals. First, it seeks to identify the micro-motives behind individual support for and engagement in aggression against members of an outgroup. It provides evidence that these motives stem from a particular set of beliefs individuals hold regarding their ingroup and the outgroup. It shows that in Israel, individuals who have “group justifying beliefs” are much more prone to support or engage in aggression against an outgroup, even when controlling for the effect of other, more traditional explanators of intergroup violence. After defining these beliefs and presenting an index to measure them (the Group Justification Index, or GJI ), the first part of the dissertation provides evidence that these beliefs predict support for or engagement in aggression against an outgroup. It also highlights three mechanisms behind the relationship between these beliefs and aggression, showing that individuals with group justifying beliefs are more prone to 1) see ambiguous behavior by the outgroup as purposeful aggression directed towards their ingroup, 2) engage in higher levels of zero-sum thinking, and 3) justify aggression against the outgroup than are those who do not hold these beliefs.

Second, this dissertation deals directly with the practicalities of intergroup conflict resolution. Building on the results in the first section of the dissertation, the second and third sections provide evidence that individuals with group justifying beliefs in Israel—those prone to engage in and support aggression against an outgroup—tend to react negatively to positive, humanizing contact with the outgroup. This suggests that for many of these individuals, an approach to conflict resolution based on the “contact hypothesis” will not yield desired results. The final chapter of the disser- tation delves deeper to identify key characteristics and experiences that explain why individuals with group justifying beliefs respond in this counter-intuitive manner. The dissertation concludes with a brief discussion of the import of these findings for the study of intergroup conflict and for conflict resolution. Together, these three studies highlight the importance of individual beliefs in motivating individual acts of aggression against members of an outgroup. They also suggest means for improving attempts at conflict resolution.

Which individual has the greater lasting impact upon the path of American law: The median Supreme Court justice or an entrepreneurial law professor at an institution with a high degree of centrality? Given that we are inclined to support the former, we offer this provocative question not to provide a definitive conclusion but rather to encourage greater incorporation of the American legal academy in positive legal theory.