Adam J. Berinsky


Curriculum Vitae




Working Papers

I use this page to make available some of my current research. Below, I list the most current versions of papers (with abstracts). If you click on the paper title, you will be taken to a PDF version of the manuscript. You will need Acrobat to read the files, available free from Adobe.

Rumors, Truths, and Reality: A Study of Political Misinformation
This paper represents a preliminary investigation into two critical questions relating to political rumors: who believes them, and what can be done to correct false information in a democratic society? I first explore the degree to which members of the mass public accept or reject rumors from across the political spectrum – ranging from beliefs about President Obama’s citizenship to conspiracies surrounding the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I then examine the demographic, personality, and political correlates of rumor belief in the mass public. While there are certain factors that lead individuals to reject all rumors out of hand, regardless of their content, rumor rejection is also in large part a function of political attachments. When it comes to the veracity of political rumors, where one stands depends in large part upon where one sits. In the second half of the paper, I report the results of a series of experiments which employ strategies to counter rumors. I focus on rumors surrounding the health care reforms enacted by Congress in 2010, in particular the notion that the reforms creates “death panels” which have the authority to determine whether or not a gravely ill or injured person should receive medical treatment. I find that effectively countering rumors is a difficult task. There is no proven method to correct mistaken political beliefs. Rumors tend to be sticky and merely repeating a rumor – even in the context of debunking that mistruth – increases its power. Some strategies may, however, prove effective. Countering a rumor with statements from an unlikely source can, under the right circumstances, increase the willingness of all citizens to reject rumors regardless of their own political predilections.

Separating the Shirkers from the Workers? Making Sure Respondents Pay Attention on Internet Surveys (with Michele Margolis and Michael Sances)
Instrumental Manipulation Checks (IMCs), or "Screeners", instruct subjects to demonstrate that they are paying attention by performing a non-sensical task. These Screeners are increasingly being used in political science and psychology research. However, no one has systematically studied the effects of Screener usage or their potential drawbacks. Folk wisdom suggests using a single Screener at the beginning of a survey and discarding all respondents who fail. Using three panel studies, we investigate how sensible this strategy is and discuss how to best employ Screeners. We begin by demonstrating how Screeners work and investigating the determinants of Screener passage. We introduce an attentiveness scale using multiple Screeners. We then attempt to induce attention in two ways: first, by training respondents who failed a Screener; and second, by warning respondents that their responses will not count unless they pay close attention. We conclude by laying out a set of best practices for researchers who may be concerned about inattentive survey respondents.

Rolling the Dice on Election Day: Risk Seeking and Political Participation
A large body of work in the political science literature has taken up the question of the risk preferences of the public. This work, while valuable, has been informed by a common assumption: citizens behave in a risk-averse manner. Though the assumption of risk aversion may be reasonable, there is reason to suspect that individuals differ in their propensity to undertake risky actions. In this paper, I propose a direct measure of inter-individual variation in risk-acceptance and show how this measure can inform the study of political behavior. I first develop a scale of the propensity to take risks using items from the 1972 National Elections Study (NES) that measure an individual’s propensity to gamble. I then demonstrate that this scale predicts the propensity to take risky behaviors outside the realm of gambling. Finally, I demonstrate the utility of examining heterogeneity in risk-taking proclivities by demonstrating how variation in risk-seeking affect rates of political participation among the general public.

Turbulent Times: An Individual-level Analysis of the Nation’s Most Important Problem, 1964-1971 (with Christopher Karpowitz)
In this paper, we examine how the public came to decide which issue was the “most important problem” facing America from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. Using twenty-five polls from Gallup’s MIP series conducted between 1964 and 1971, we begin the process of describing how particular groups of individuals came to determine which issues were important and how different kinds of individuals responded to changes in the social and political world. We are able to explore the effects of changes in real-world conditions by incorporating a content analysis of major news stories in the period. Specifically, we trace how developments in the political world changed the structure of individual decisions about the most important problem question over time, and see how those effects differed for particular groups in the population. We find that as the percentage of news devoted to a given subject increased, the probability of an “average” person picking the corresponding topic as the nation’s most important increased as well. We also find that groups at all levels of cognitive sophistication are receptive to changes in real-world events. However, in different issue areas, different dynamics appear. Individuals with higher levels of sophistication are more sensitive to changes in foreign affairs, the economy, and discussions of social control. Those with lower levels of sophistication are most responsive to changes in the major issues of Vietnam and race. Finally, we find that those groups with most at stake in a given issue area are more sensitive than others to developments in that area. Specifically, we find that blacks are more sensitive than whites to changes in events relating to race and the young are more sensitive than the old to an increased focus by the media on Vietnam.