My primary research interests include psychological threat management, political psychology, and questions at the intersection of those areas.
My primary research examines perceptions of potentially threatening information and responses to receipt of threatening information. I am interested in predictors and consequences of defensive responses to threats to the self, including information avoidance—opting for ignorance over knowledge. Accordingly, my research examines (a) the psychological and situational factors that make people likely to avoid information, and (b) the downstream psychological and behavioral consequences of avoiding information.
In addition to my work on psychological threat management I am interested in political cognition and behavior, defined broadly. I am particularly interested in perceptions of political polarization (e.g., the extent to which people perceive political attitudes among the left and right to be different) and attitudes toward and support for third parties and candidates.
THREAT MANAGEMENT AND POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY
The existing information avoidance literature has primarily focused on avoidance of threats to the self that pose tangible consequences for the self (e.g., avoiding screening for preventable health issues). Yet, similar reasons may motivate people to avoid threats to the self that pose consequences for others. Many of these threats are political in nature.
I am particularly interested in (a) how political orientation determines the kind of information that is threatening to different people, and (b) factors that predict the decision to avoid political information, including information about government regulations and politically relevant feedback about the self. For example, the idea that people have attitudes about others that they are to some extent unwilling or unable to report can threaten the self, especially when such implicit attitudes differ from one's consciously endorsed, explicit attitudes. To the extent that learning about one’s implicit attitudes (e.g., feedback indicating an implicit preference for White people over Black people) is threatening, a person may opt to avoid receipt of that information.
In addition to implicit bias, many everyday behaviors such as political action, consumer decisions, and environmentally-relevant behavior hold potential consequences for others. For example, White people experience prolific, unearned benefits relative to non-White people regarding criminal justice, hiring decisions, and quality of medical care. Yet, many White people are unaware of such White privilege and, because learning about that privilege can be threatening, people may be motivated to remain unaware. Yet, the consequences of White privilege extend well beyond the outcomes of White people.