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Disrespectful Democracy: The Psychology of Political Incivility, Emily Sydnor

Reviewed by Ian G. Anson

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Many pressing questions in political psychology pertain to citizens’ experiences in an increasingly immersive information environment. As news apps, push notifications, cable streaming services, and news aggregators grow more plentiful, the call to better understand how features of communication shape political behavior becomes more urgent. To that end, Emily Sydnor’s recent book Disrespectful Democracy represents an important and thorough examination of conflict orientation as a key determinant of behavior in a hostile media environment. Working from a definition of conflict orientation as “the way one experiences and reacts to a conflict situation” (p. 27), the book explains how and why conflict-averse citizens are deterred from political behavior—and why their conflict-approaching counterparts are stimulated—when uncivil discourse prevails.

Some readers familiar with work on incivility might recall earlier studies, such as Diana Mutz’s 2015 In-Your-Face Politics: The Consequences of Uncivil Media, as a useful point of departure for understanding Sydnor’s approach. Indeed, Sydnor reviews the growing literature on conflict orientation and hostility to great effect in the volume, carefully identifying the conceptual contours of her “incivility” (impoliteness

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