The key contribution I make in my dissertation is the psychological proximity hypothesis to shed light on people's motivation to become politically active on particular issues. Issues that are proximate to the individual tend to be cared about more passionately and are more likely to be acted upon. Psychologically proximate issues are interpreted concretely and related to higher levels of issue activism. Psychologically distant issues are interpreted abstractly, and only related to issue activism if the issue is tied directly to values or ideology. I use environmental activism as the test case. In my dissertation I showed how psychological proximity, regardless of material resources, leads to higher levels of environmental activism. I use a combination of observational survey data from the National Election Studies and the General Social Survey along with novel survey-experimental data I collect through internet-based crowdsourcing technologies.
The Moral Environmentalism Scale (MES) is a measure of environmental attitudes that is able, unlike other well-known scales, to predict environmental behavior among Republicans. Existing indicators of environmental attitudes are confounded by liberal ideology. The MES gets around this problem by incorporating language from conservative moral foundations to generate a novel scale that captures environmentalism across the political spectrum. This work is being done with Cameron Brick.
Public opinion drives much of the policymaking process. Understanding how public is shaped and how it changes has important consequences for public policy. I am interested in questions of how public opinion is formed, especially around environmental issues. I have published work in an edited volume and an article in Environmental Politics that can be found here.
I am currently working on a project that compares, for the first time, major drivers of environmental behaviors and policy positions.
Sustainability combines concerns about the environment, economy, and equity. In a large research project I, along with others, am working on measuring what people actually know about sustainability and how that can drive attitudes and behaviors. We developed a measure of sustainability and surveyed over 600 first and fourth year students and found that there does not seem to be a cohesive psychological characteristic of sustainability literacy.