My research draws on theories and methods from political science, communication and social psychology.  My interdisciplinary approach focuses on the implications of the tone of mediated discourse, and argues that Americans’ non-political predispositions—like their tolerance for conflict or argument—interact with this tone to dictate political behavior. 


Sydnor, Emily and Nicole Pankiewicz. (2017). “Assessing Undergraduate Learning in Political Science: Development and Implementation of the PACKS SurveyPS: Political Science & Politics. (gated)

We describe the creation and implementation of a new online assessment program ("PACKS") for the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of online assessments and ways that our approach can be implemented by other universities. Specifically, we recommend using a strong incentive to ensure full participation, such as an advising hold that prevents students from registering until they complete the assessment. 

Sydnor, Emily and Danielle Psimas (2017). “Easing Political Digestion: The Effects of News Curation on Citizens Behavior” Journal of Information Technology and Politics. (gated)

The contemporary media environment is rife with choices, especially format and delivery system.  We focus on “curated news:” a collection of links delivered to one’s inbox, phone, or RSS feed.  These digests vary in the extent to which they contextualize the information they present.  Some offer headlines with links to the full article, while others summarize and interpret the story for the reader. Using a survey experiment, we vary the amount of contextualization present in a set of curated links to test the effects of curation on citizens’ recall of information, their interest in politics, and their search for information.

Sydnor, Emily (2018). "Platforms for Incivility: Examining Perceptions Across Media" Political Communication

Using two survey experiments, I demonstrate that individuals' perceptions of incivility are shaped by the mix of attributes present across different media platforms. Generally, audio and video increase awareness of incivility cues as well as participants' evaluations of negative, emotional and entertaining tone.  The social media platform Twitter is particularly entertaining in comparison to the other platforms studied. 

Sydnor, Emily (2019). “Signaling Incivility: The Role of Speaker, Substance, and Tone” in A Crisis of Civility? Contemporary Research on Civility, Incivility and Political Discourse. Robert G. Boatright, Timothy J. Shaffer, Sarah Sobieraj, and Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, eds. New York: Routledge.

Online Appendix

Is it possible that incivility is a good thing? This chapter, to be included in a forthcoming edited volume, uses two survey experiment to untangle three important components of political communication—speaker, substance and tone—to more clearly understand what drives perceptions of incivility and the effects of incivility on political behavior. 

Working Papers

The Emotional Consequences of Psychological Conflict Orientation and Political Incivility” 

 I argue that individuals’ predispositions towards conflict—their conflict orientation—change how they react to mediated incivility. I find that the conflict avoidant—those who are uncomfortable with argument and confrontation—report more anger and disgust with the clip than their conflict approaching peers.  These findings suggest that we should pay more attention to individual differences when considering media effects and complicate our understanding of the impact of incivility on political behavior.

Disrespectful Democracy: The Interaction of Political Incivility and Psychological Conflict Orientation

Excerpt: chapter 5

This book complicates the relationship between incivility and political behavior by introducing a key individual predisposition—conflict orientation—into the equation.  I argue that individuals experience conflict in different ways; some people enjoy arguments and are perfectly comfortable entering a shouting match in a public place while others become uncomfortable at the sight of an argument and avoid face-to-face confrontation whenever possible.  Using six primary surveys and survey experiments, and supplementing with additional data, I examine the behavioral effects of the interaction between conflict orientation and incivility.


"Fighting Words and Fiery Tone: The Interaction of Political Incivility and Psychological Conflict Orientation"

Winner, APSA Political Communication section Best Dissertation Award, 2016

Committee: Nicholas J.G. Winter, Paul Freedman, Lynn Sanders, Brian Nosek

My dissertation investigates how incivility in mediated political discourse interacts with individual-level predispositions regarding conflict to shape media choice and effect political engagement.  Using content analysis, the project analyzes the degree of incivility across a range of television and internet news outlets, as well as social media, and explores the differential effects that incivility can have on individuals, depending on their orientation towards conflict.  I use data from approximately 2,500 participants in three online surveys to find that highly conflict-approaching and avoidant individuals do behave differently: conflict-avoidant participants report less participation in activities such as protests or commenting on blogs and report a greater preference for traditional network news or for social media as their preferred sources of political news. The activities and media preferred by the conflict avoidant tend to be those that are also considered more civil.  Thus, an interaction between civility and orientation occurs as individuals attempt to match their own reactions to conflict with the amount of civility or incivility they will experience while engaging with politics.