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Resistance or Capitulation? How Discrete Emotions Shape Citizens’ Interactions With the Administrative State

Elizabeth Bell, Julian Christensen, Kristina Jessen Hansen

Abstract: Public administration researchers have found that unfavorable state actions can trigger negative emotions in citizens, but the behavioral consequences of these emotions have been understudied. We draw on psychological insights to predict how discrete emotional responses to unfavorable interactions with the state (specifically: administrative decisions to deny access to public benefits) will predict citizens’ coping behaviors, such as whether they voice grievances, file complaints, and seek information. We test our hypotheses using a survey of applicants of a notoriously burdensome, means-tested tuition-free college program in Oklahoma, USA. In line with our theoretical framework, we find anger increases opposition behaviors in reaction to losses of access to the program, whereas shame reduces opposition among citizens. We also find that fear increases information-seeking and resistance behaviors. The results demonstrate the role of discrete emotions in predicting state-directed citizen behaviors, but also provide the groundwork for applying the discrete emotions framework to other actors, such as public managers and street-level bureaucrats.
Keywords: behaviors / citizens / discrete emotions / opposition / unfavorable / survey / Administrative / seek

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