Stephanie Dornschneider-Elkink

My research agenda focuses on the psychological foundations of political dissent, which I investigate through computational analyses of ethnographic interviews. Recent findings show the role of positive emotions and tit-for-tat reasoning in dissident deliberations. They also identify hidden non-collective forms of resistance in highly oppressive settings.

Methodologically, my research focuses on the identification of inferences contained by natural language expressions, which show how people reason about their behaviour and reach political decisions and judgements. Knowledge of inferences expressed by direct speech contributes important information on political behaviour, adding to rational choice models, which cannot account for common deviations from cost-benefit calculations in the form of cognitive shortcuts or affective reasoning. It also helps to understand how individuals’ perceptions of their surroundings may motivate them to engage in certain behaviour, thus offering more fine-grained accounts of how environmental theories may function at the level of the individual.

Emotions – Findings on positive emotions (Dornschneider 2021; Dornschneider and Todd 2021) advance the large body of literature that links dissent to negative emotions, such as anger (van Zomeren, Postmes and Spears 2008) or frustration (Gurr 1970). The findings show how particular positive emotions of hope, courage, solidarity ad pride (Dornschneider 2021) as well as positive affect (Dornschneider and Todd 2021) contribute to dissident thinking and decision-making. This advances our understanding of the emotional micro-foundations of political behaviour, while adding to an emerging research field on positive emotions.

Tit-for-tat – Findings on tit-for-tat (Dornschneider-Elkink and Henderson 2023) show how state repression shapes political dissident. This research shows that dissidents choose violent means primarily in response to violent repression, and nonviolent means in response to nonviolent repression. Ordinary citizens not participating in dissent consider positive state behavior or safety concerns instead. Consistent with arguments that state dissident interactions are reciprocal, these findings reveal unexpected cognitive similarities between political dissent and cooperation, which is often associated with tit-for-tat deliberations (Axelrod 1981; Nowak and Sigmund 1992).

Resistance under threat - In highly oppressive environments, collective resistance is very costly. Non-collective resistance constitutes a less risky alternative. My research (Dornschneider 2023) identifies everyday forms of non-collective resistance, which are characterized by low visibility and target political goals indirectly (signaling, persevering, eschewing and coping). These activities constitute important resistance efforts, showing that individuals who are not visibly resisting their rulers cannot be assumed to be loyal or to suffer from a barrier of fear, as often suggested by theories in politics. They also offer an important addition to theories that identify violence as a common response to oppression, suggesting that peaceful non-collective activities constitute an everyday alternative.

Methods - My research focuses on the development of computational methods to analyse natural language. Primarily, I work on developing algorithms that identify inferences and reasoning processes (chains of inferences) from direct speech (Dornschneider 2019, 2016; Dornschneider and Henderson 2016). This research agenda draws on Axelrod’s cognitive mapping approach (1976), which proposes a consistent methodology to identify the reasoning processes of policy makers. My research seeks to automate both the identification process as well as the analysis of the identified inference chains. In recent collaborations (Dornschneider-Elkink and Edmonds 2022; Dornschneider and Edmonds 2021), I have explored integrating the identified inferences into agent-based models, in order to explore the social dynamics arising from the cognitive processes of individuals.