February 26, 2014
Jason Windett

Political Science Visiting Professor

The Department of Politic Science will host Christopher Mooney, Ph.D., Friday, March 7. Mooney is the director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and the W. Russell Arrington Professor of State Politics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

Mooney will discuss his work with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs — a public policy think tank organized by the University of Illinois system, at 9 a.m. in room 144 McGannon Hall. This talk will outline a current project the institute is working on titled "The Illinois Budget Policy Toolbox." Attendees can view the application and a brief description of the policy options the Illinois Legislature could consider in its long-term budget planning online

He will deliver an academic talk, titled "Cognitive Complexity in U.S. Statehouses," at 10 a.m. in room 144 McGannon Hall.

Lecture abstract:

"Under what conditions is a lawmaker's understanding of a policy proposal he/she faces cognitively complex, encompassing more than one potential causal connection more or less thoroughly? While critics and certain positive models argue that political leaders' thinking about policy is relatively shallow, the motivated tactician model suggests that they may apply variable cognitive effort depending on the decision context.

To test this contextual hypothesis, I examine the differentiation of thought displayed in 696 explanations of legislation by 145 members of five state legislatures collected in personal interviews. I find that the major force motivating the complexity of a lawmaker's thinking on a bill is his/her personal and institutional responsibility for it. A bill's sponsor and cosponsors display significantly more differentiated thought on their bills than do other members, as do the members and leaders of the committee(s) that have heard the bill. In addition, lawmakers apply more cognitive effort to controversial bills, for which they may anticipate being held to account. This example of 'distributed cognition' both supports the motivated tactician model and has positive and negative implications for public policy."

Mooney studies comparative U.S. state politics, with special focus on state legislatures. From 2001 to 2007, Mooney was the founding editor of the top academic journal in his field, State Politics and Policy Quarterly, and he co-authored one of the leading undergraduate textbooks on the subject.

He directed the Institute for Legislative Studies at UIS from 1999 to 2004. Prior to this, he served as the director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science at West Virginia University. He has also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and his master's and doctorate degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Mooney joined the Institute of Government and Public Affairs in 2004.

In honor of his scholarly contributions to the study of state politics, in 2010, the State Politics and Policy organized section of the American Political Science Association endowed the Christopher Z. Mooney Award, awarded annually for the best doctoral dissertation in the field. In 2012, that section of the APSA bestowed its Career Achievement Award on him.

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