Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Pocketbook in Private? How Observability Causes Individuals to Behave Sociotropically in Political Economy Public Deposited
  • Why do individuals engage in political economy egocentrically at some times and sociotropically at others? I claim that human beings will be more likely to demonstrate attitudes and behaviors that are in their own self-interest when in private, and those that are in the interests of others when in public. A survey of the research in mass political economy shows a major divide over whether individuals are selfish actors or hold strong motivations to benefit the collective. While there is merit to both of these approaches, neither is a panacea. Furthermore, I demonstrate that conflicting findings in existing research need not be concerning. These broad divisions in this literature mirror those within our brains. Natural selection has endowed our minds with strong capacities to behave both egocentrically and sociotropically. The real challenge becomes explaining what causes each of these parts of us to become active. This project is about how observability changes political behavior in predictable ways. Using data from multiple surveys across 23 countries, I am able to demonstrate the importance of social context across a diverse set of outcomes in political economy. First, while retrospective assessments of national economic conditions exert a strong and significant effect on candidate selection in public, they largely fail to do so in private. In the absence of others, individuals are more likely to reward and punish candidates based on their personal financial situation. Second, while individuals egocentrically update their attitudes of welfare policies when in private, they largely fail to do so in the added presence of an interviewer. Finally, in a unique online experiment of political donating behavior, I show that publishing respondent decisions in newspapers and on social media increases the propensity for individuals to benefit the country at costs to themselves. These findings hold major implications for how we participate in politics and the broader democratic process.
Date Issued
  • 2018
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Commencement Year
Last Modified
  • 2019-11-16
Resource Type
Rights Statement