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Work and Democratic Citizenship: A Theory of Ego Depletion and Political Participation

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Principal Investigator(s):

Christopher Johnston
Duke University
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Benjamin Newman
University of California, Riverside
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Field period: 11/16/2013-02/10/2015



In this project we combine the standard resource model of participation and the dual-process approach to political judgment and decision making by proposing a theoretical role for available cognitive resources. Our core claim is that when cognitive activities leave citizens depleted, they are (1) more likely to withdraw participation altogether, and (2) to the extent they do participate, the quality of such participation suffers relative to the non-depleted. We test these claims in an experimental study in which cognitive depletion is manipulated and randomly assigned.


Depleted (relative to non-depleted) individuals are less likely to consume political relative to other forms of information and entertainment.

Depleted (relative to non-depleted) individuals are more likely to rely on political heuristics and less likely to process political information systematically.

Experimental Manipulations:

We experimentally manipulate cognitive depletion (versus non-depletion) through a simple task cognitive task (writing sentences) that is either very demanding or very simple.

Key Dependent Variables:

We examine two dependent variables: (1) the choice to consume political versus other forms of media and entertainment, and (2) the extent to which citizens rely on partisan cues or relative strength of arguments in making a judgment about a public policy issue.

Summary of Findings:

Our research is still in progress.


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