The Journal of Politics


What Makes Us Click? Demonstrating Incentives for Angry Discourse with Digital-Age Field Experiments

Timothy J. Ryan

University of Michigan


There is substantial evidence that political actors can incorporate emotional content into their messages with an eye toward evoking politically relevant behaviors. In particular, many studies highlight anxiety as effective in eliciting interest and information seeking. This finding raises the question of why many appeals seem geared to evoke not anxiety, but rather anger. I point to reasons why anger might evoke information seeking under at least some conditions. Then, in a new type of field experiment, I induce feelings of anger and anxiety and passively measure the effects on information seeking. Across three studies, I find anger, evoked alone, to increase information seeking to a large degree—substantially increasing web users’ proclivity to click through to a political website. The results suggest that anger can engage and speak to psychological incentives for political communication, under some conditions, to employ angry rhetoric.


  Timothy J. Ryan is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.