Here are links to find out more information about my academic papers. They are listed in reverse chronological order (more or less), and might include some working papers or things in-press.
Ryan, Timothy J. and Yanna Krupnikov. “Split Feelings: Understanding Implicit and Explicit Political Persuasion.” American Political Science Review.
Research in psychology has established that people have visceral positive and negative reactions to all kinds of stimuli—so-called implicit attitudes. Implicit attitudes are empirically distinct from explicit attitudes, and they appear to have separate consequences for political behavior. However, little is known about whether they change in response to different factors than explicit attitudes. Identifying distinct antecedents for implicit and explicit attitudes would have far-reaching implications for the study of political persuasion. We hypothesized that implicit attitudes would change primarily in response to political advertisements’ emotional valence, but this turned out to be wrong. In contrast, our next hypothesis that implicit (but not explicit) attitudes would improve in response to increased familiarity with an attitude object was supported across several tests. Aside from this finding, our studies illustrate how routine preregistration helps researchers convey what they learned from each test—including when predictions are not borne out.
Greene, Steven, Marc Hetherington, Rahsaan Maxwell, and Timothy J. Ryan. “Public Service Announcements and Promoting Face Masks During the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
Wearing face masks to combat the spread of COVID-19 became a politicized and contested practice in the United States, largely due to misinformation and partisan cues from masking opponents. This article examines whether Public Service Announcements (PSAs) can encourage the use of face masks. We designed two PSAs: one describes the benefits of using face masks; the other uses a novel messenger (i.e., a retired US general) to advocate for them. We conducted two studies. First, we aired our PSAs on television and surveyed residents of the media market to determine if they saw the PSA and how they felt about wearing face masks. Second, we conducted a randomized experiment on a diverse national sample. Both studies suggest that exposure to our PSAs increased support for face masks and induced greater compliance with public health advice. These findings have implications for how governments might fight pandemics.
Clayton, Katherine, Nicholas T. Davis, Brendan Nyhan, Ethan Porter, Timothy J. Ryan, and Thomas J. Wood. 2021. “Elite Rhetoric Can Undermine Democratic Norms.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Democratic stability depends on citizens on the losing side accepting election outcomes. Can rhetoric by political leaders undermine this norm? Using a panel survey experiment, we evaluate the effects of exposure to multiple statements from former president Donald Trump attacking the legitimacy of the 2020 US presidential election. Although exposure to these statements does not measurably affect general support for political violence or belief in democracy, it erodes trust and confidence in elections and increases belief that the election is rigged among people who approve of Trump’s job performance. These results suggest that rhetoric from political elites can undermine respect for critical democratic norms among their supporters.
Ryan, Timothy J. and Jeff Spinner-Halev. “Who Gives Credence to Whom?: Exploring Status and Relational Equality with Empirical Tests.” Journal of Politics.
A prominent view of equality that has arisen in recent years – social or relational equality – argues that whatever the distribution of quantifiable resources in a society, citizens must treat each other as equals: if some citizens are ignored because they are seen as low-status, it is a problem that should be rectified. However, the meaning of relational equality is vague. As an exercise in “middle-range” theorizing, we operationalize several conjectures that are compatible with relational equality, and submit these to empirical tests. In particular, we examine whether high-status people give little credence to the political views of low-status individuals. We find that some citizens’ political views are indeed given less credence, but that this pattern occurs not because of their status per se, but rather because of how they communicate their arguments. Our findings help to clarify what aspects of relational equality represent the most promising avenues for further inquiry.
Ryan, Timothy J. and Amanda Aziz. “Are Conservative More Credulous? Experimental Evidence Against Asymmetric Motivations to Believe False Political Information.” Journal of Politics.
Recent political events have galvanized interest in the promulgation of misinformation— particularly false rumors about political opponents. An array of studies provide reasons to think that harboring false political beliefs is a disproportionately conservative phenomenon, since citizens with affinity for the political right endorse more false information than people with affinity for the left. However, as we discuss below, past research is limited in its ability to distinguish supply-side explanations for this result (false information is spread more effectively by elites on the right) from demand-side explanations (citizens who sympathize with the right are more likely to believe false information upon receipt). We conduct an experiment on a representative sample of Americans designed specifically to reveal asymmetries in citizens’ proclivity to endorse false damaging information about political opponents. In a contrast with previous results, we find no evidence that citizens on the political right are especially likely to endorse false political information.
Delton, Andrew W., Peter DeScioli, and TImothy J. Ryan. “Moral Obstinacy in Political Negotiations.” Political Psychology.
Research in behavioral economics finds that moral considerations bear on the offers that people make and accept in negotiations. This finding is relevant for political negotiations, wherein moral concerns are manifold. However, behavioral economics has yet to incorporate a major theme from moral psychology: people differ, sometimes immensely, in which issues they perceive to be a matter of morality. We review research about the measurement and characteristics of moral convictions. We hypothesize that moral conviction leads to uncompromising bargaining strategies and failed negotiations. We test this theory in three incentivized experiments in which participants bargain over political policies with real payoffs at stake. We find that participants’ moral convictions are linked with aggressive bargaining strategies, which helps explain why it is harder to forge bargains on some political issues than others. We also find substantial asymmetries between liberals and conservatives in the intensity of their moral convictions about different issues.
Wells, Matthew and Timothy J. Ryan. 2018. “Following the Party in Time of War? The Implications of Elite Consensus.” International Interactions.
Abstract: Prominent perspectives in the study of conflict point to two factors that exert substantial influence on public opinion about foreign intervention: (1) news about casualties and (2) signals from partisan elites. Past work is limited, however, in what it can say about how these two factors interact. We present an experiment designed to understand the surprisingly common scenario where elites send competing messages about whether the public should support war or oppose it—and these messages do not coincide with party divisions. We find that partisans are generally insensitive to news about casualties, but they become noticeably more sensitive when they perceive within-party disputes over support for the war. Independents, however, respond to news of casualties irrespective of what messages elites send. These findings shed light on when and how the public responds to competing and unclear cues and speak to the role of public opinion in determining conflict outcomes and democratic foreign policy-making more broadly.
Matchett, Gerald, Timothy J. Ryan, Mary C. Sunna, Simon C. Lee, and Paul E. Pepe. 2018. “Measuring the Cost and Effect of Current Community Consultation and Public Disclosure Techniques in Emergency Care Research.” Resuscitation.
Abstract: U.S. federal regulations for research involving exception from informed consent (EFIC) include stipulations for community consultation (CC) and public disclosure (PD) (FDA 21 CFR 50.24). Published descriptions of PD campaigns include letters to community leaders, media outreach, paid advertising, and community meetings. Whether or not these activities provide measurable impact is unknown, as few prior works have evaluated PD activities with probabilistic polling. The aim of this study is to use polling to assess how much public awareness PD efforts generate.
Ryan, Timothy J. Forthcoming. “Actions Versus Consequences in Political Arguments: Insights from Moral Psychology.” Journal of Politics.
Abstract: A striking characteristic of moral judgments is that people commonly assign value to particular actions, irrespective of what consequences the actions bring about. This phenomenon might be important to understanding political judgments, where people frequently purport to stand on principle, even when doing some comes at a substantial cost. Here, I draw on work in psychology that might help identify which citizens are insensitive to consequences in the context of political argumentation. I find that a particular facet of attitude intensity (moral conviction) identifies citizens who think about political issues in absolutist terms (Studies 1-2), and who dismiss damaging information about policy consequences (Studies 3-4). These results develop understanding of what attributes make different political arguments compelling to different people, and illustrate the utility of attitude intensity measures as a way to account for the atomized and disorganized nature of political opinions.
Ryan, Timothy J. 2017. “How Do Indifferent Voters Decide? The Political Importance of Implicit Attitudes.” American Journal of Political Science.
Abstract: A hallmark finding in the study of public opinion is that many citizens approach the political realm with one-sided attitudes that color their judgments, making attitude change difficult. This finding highlights the importance of citizens with weak prior attitudes, since they might represent a segment of the electorate that is more susceptible to influence. The judgment processes of citizens with weak attitudes, however, are poorly understood. Drawing from dual process models in psychology, I test the idea that citizens with weak explicit attitudes rely on implicit attitudes as they render political judgments. I find support for this conjecture in experimental and observational data. There are two main contributions. First, I show that an important and understudied segment of the electorate arrives at political decisions via automatic (but nonetheless predictable) mental processes. Second, I characterize the conditions under which implicit political attitudes matter more and less.
Ryan, Timothy J. and Ted Brader. 2017. “Gaffe Appeal: A Field Experiment on Partisan Selective Exposure to Election Messages.” Political Science Research and Methods.
Abstract: The possibility that citizens expose themselves to information in biased ways—so-called selective exposure—has acquired new importance as the media environment has evolved to provide more choices concerning what to watch and read. But evidence for the most prominent idea in selective exposure research—that citizens prefer attitude-consistent information—is notably mixed. Methodological challenges likely contribute to the inconclusive nature of findings, as researchers face trade-offs between the artificiality of lab environments and the difficult-to-disentangle confounds of observational analysis. We improve understanding of selective exposure in two ways. First, we consider how message aspects other than attitude-consistency affect exposure decisions. Second, we study selective exposure with an innovative field experiment conducted in the United States that addresses limitations of other approaches. Our results allow us to reach more confident conclusions about the prevalence of motivated selective exposure, and help to illuminate underpinnings of the oft-lamented tendency for campaign media to focus on candidate miscues rather than substantive policy differences.
Ryan, Timothy J. 2017. “No Compromise: Political Consequences of Moralized Attitudes.” American Journal of Political Science.
Abstract: Evolutionary, neuroscientific, and cognitive perspectives in psychology have converged on the idea that some attitudes are moralized—a distinctive characteristic. Moralized attitudes reorient behavior from maximizing gains to adhering to rules. Here, I examine a political consequence of this tendency. In three studies, I measure attitude moralization and examine how it relates to approval of political compromise. I find that moralized attitudes lead citizens to oppose compromises, punish compromising politicians, and forsake material gains. These patterns emerge on economic and noneconomic issues alike and identify a psychological phenomenon that contributes to intractable political disputes.
Kinder, Donald R. and Timothy J. Ryan. 2017. “Prejudice and Politics Re-Examined: The Political Significance of Implicit Racial Bias.” Political Science Research and Methods.
Abstract: As part of a general inquiry into mental mechanisms that operate outside conscious awareness, experimental psychology has recently established the presence and importance of “implicit attitudes.” The purpose of our paper is to compare the roles played by implicit and explicit prejudice in politics. Relying on two national surveys of the American electorate that included standard measures of implicit and explicit prejudice, we provide a systematic comparison of prejudice’s political effects: for the candidates Americans choose, the policies they favor, the assessments they make of government performance, and the racialized information they absorb. We find that implicit and explicit prejudice provide radically different pictures of racial politics in America.
Broockman, David E. and Timothy J. Ryan. 2016. “Preaching to the Choir: Americans Prefer Communicating to Copartisan Elected Officials.” American Journal of Political Science.
Abstract: Past work suggests that partisan attachments isolate citizens from encountering elite messages contrary to their points of view. Here, we present evidence that partisan attachments not only serve to filter the information citizens receive from political elites; they also work in the other direction, isolating politicians from encountering potentially contrary perspectives from citizens. In particular, we hypothesized that Americans prefer expressing their opinions to politicians who share their party identification and avoid contacting outpartisan politicians. Three studies—drawing on a mixture of observational, field experimental, and natural experimental approaches—support this hypothesis: citizens prefer to “preach to the choir,” contacting legislators of the same partisan stripe. In light of evidence that contact from citizens powerfully affects politicians’ stances and priorities, these findings suggest a feedback loop that might aggravate political polarization and help explain how politicians of different parties could develop different perceptions of the same constituencies.
Ryan, Timothy J., Matthew S. Wells, and Brice D.L. Acree. 2016. “Emotional Responses to Disturbing Political News: The Role of Personality.” Journal of Experimental Political Science.
Abstract: Recent scholarship in political science identifies emotions as an important antecedent to political behavior. Existing work, however, has focused much more on the political effects of emotions than on their causes. Here, we begin to examine how personality moderates emotional responses to political events. We hypothesized that the personality trait need for affect (NFA) would moderate the emotions evoked by disturbing political news. Drawing data from a survey experiment conducted on a national sample, we find that individuals high in NFA have an especially vivid emotional response to disturbing news—a moderating relationship that has the potential to surpass those associated with symbolic attachments.
Karl, Kristyn L. and Timothy J. Ryan. 2016. “When Are Stereotypes about Black Candidates Applied? An Experimental Test.” Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics.
Abstract: Past research shows that candidates’ racial identities influence the assumptions that voters draw about how they will behave in office. In a national survey experiment examining televised candidate advertisements, we find evidence that stereotypes differ both in their potency and how vulnerable they are to disconfirmation. Consistent with previous work, black candidates are broadly assumed to be more liberal than white candidates, although the effect is notably small in magnitude. Yet when it comes to more specific stereotypes—how black candidates will behave on individual issues—effects are not only much larger, but also more contingent on what information is available. We find that by providing a small bit of ideological information, black candidates can overcome the assumption that they will enact liberal policies as concerns taxation and non-racialized aspects of social welfare policy. But it is much more difficult for them to overturn the assumption that they will prioritize aid to minorities while in office.
Lupia, Arthur, Logan S. Casey, Kristyn L. Karl, Spencer Piston, Timothy J. Ryan, and Christopher Skovron. 2015. “What Does it Take to Reduce Prejudice in Individual-Level Candidate Evaluations? A Formal Theoretic Perspective.” Political Science Research and Methods.
Abstract: Anti-black prejudice affects how some citizens evaluate black candidates. What does it take to reduce the role of prejudice in these evaluations? Using logical implications of relevant psychological phenomena, this article shows that repeated exposure to counter-stereotypical information is insufficient to reduce evaluative prejudice. Instead, citizens must associate this prejudice with adverse effects for themselves in contexts that induce them to rethink their existing racial beliefs. These findings explain important disagreements in empirical prejudice research, as only some empirical research designs supply the conditions for prejudice reduction predicted here. This study also clarifies why similarly situated citizens react so differently to counter-stereotypical information. In sum, we find that prejudice change is possible, but in a far narrower set of circumstances than many scholars claim.
Ryan, Timothy J. 2014. “Reconsidering Moral Issues in Politics.” Journal of Politics.
Abstract: Political scientists commonly distinguish issues that are moral from ones that are not. The distinction is taken to be important for understanding persuadability, the stability of opinions, and issue salience, among other phenomena, but there are inconsistencies in how scholars have conceived it. Drawing insights from psychology, I suggest that it is fruitful to think about moral conviction as a dimension of attitude strength. Using three data sources, I examine how much this perspective contributes to our understanding of politics. I find evidence that moral conviction shapes political opinions and action in surprising ways: it varies across issues, but also within them, including issues usually considered not to be moral. It contributes to participatory zeal, but moral conviction may also be related to political extremism and hostility. The findings point to much promise in a microlevel understanding of the role of morality in politics.
Ryan, Timothy J. 2012. “What Makes Us Click? Demonstrating Incentives for Angry Discourse with Digital-Age Field Experiments.” Journal of Politics.
Abstract: There is substantial evidence that political actors can incorporate emotional content into their messages with an eye toward evoking politically relevant behaviors. In particular, many studies highlight anxiety as effective in eliciting interest and information seeking. This finding raises the question of why many appeals seem geared to evoke not anxiety, but rather anger. I point to reasons why anger might evoke information seeking under at least some conditions. Then, in a new type of field experiment, I induce feelings of anger and anxiety and passively measure the effects on information seeking. Across three studies, I find anger, evoked alone, to increase information seeking to a large degree—substantially increasing web users’ proclivity to click through to a political website. The results suggest that anger can engage and speak to psychological incentives for political communication, under some conditions, to employ angry rhetoric.