Tim Ryan is studying moral psychology and its application to politics: where intuitions about morality come from, how politicians leverage them in political appeals, and how they come to bear on opinions and action. He pays particular attention to polarization, asking whether an increased tendency to think about politics in terms of right and wrong drives Americans apart and dampens the possibility of political compromise.

He became interested in his summer research project by reading work by Robert Kurzban, Peter DeScioli, Jonathan Haidt, and Justus Myers, all of whom study morality from a psychological perspective. In various ways, they have all highlighted the existence of specialized cognitive processes in the brain designed (by natural selection) to make moral judgments. Moreover, there is reason to believe that these processes are central to forming political attitudes and precipitating political behavior, but there is not much original research on this. Additionally, it is potentially relevant to explaining some of the policy impasses we are currently experiencing, such as the difficulty forging political compromises. Tim says, “I am particularly excited about this project because it is at a rich intersection of the social sciences, the hard sciences, and ethical philosophy.”  

Tim is working with Ted Brader and Nick Valentino, the co-chairs of his dissertation committee, as well as Donald Kinder and Arthur Lupia.  He will be using the Centennial Award to fund the design of experiments, data analysis, and the development of measurement instrumentation.  
When Tim is not working on academic projects, he enjoys sailing at The Michigan Sailing Club.


Intellectual at leisure demonstrates a port tack.