$21K Dissertation Grant Aims to Help Political Campaigns Motivate Voters

By Curtis Houck | July 2, 2013 | 9:53am EDT

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The National Science Foundation (NSF) has agreed to give a Rice University graduate student a $21,000 grant to determine why some people are interested in politics while others are not.

Seonghui Lee's NSF-funded dissertation hopes to answer the question: What makes politics interesting?

The grant, which was awarded March 5, will "use appraisal models of interest developed in psychology to understand individual differences in political interest and knowledge."

Lee and her faculty advisor, Political Science Professor Randolph Stevenson, say that the findings "should be of interest to political campaigns and other civic programs that seek to understand how to activate politically interest."

The "appraisal models of interest" that Lee wants to test revolves around the idea that people experience certain emotions only after they consciously or subconsciously match certain events or moments with a physical place, object or concrete idea. When such a connection is made, the appropriate emotion "fires."

The goal of the research is to find out whether this happens when people are exposed to political messaging. Lee's hypothesis is that the combination of the content of the political message ("novelty, complexity, uncertainty, and conflictualness of the event") and an individual's "characteristics"- including their ability to understand what they have just viewed - determines their interest level.

"Theoretically, this research takes the view that long-term interests are developed in a series of discrete emotional experiences in which individuals learn what does and does not interest them," reads a description of the grant application.

However, the $20,862 grant abstract does not specify how Lee and Stevenson will go about testing "appraisal models of interest" - including test subjects, time frames, or methods in which individuals will be exposed to political messaging - or how they will develop a theory based on the results.

Lee and Stevenson did not respond to CNSNews.com's request for comments.

An NSF spokeswoman told CNSNews.com said that the agency accepts grant applications on a "case-by-case" basis from anyone interested in obtaining funding for research. She added that she was not aware of any set policy regarding the awarding of grants to graduate students.

As part of any "peer-reviewed research," requests for funding from individuals "sometimes falls under their dissertation." However, she added, research for a dissertation must follow a procedure that includes NSF's "merit review process," which encourages "broader participation" and consideration by a "peer-reviewed panel."

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