Cecilia Hyunjung Mo is the Judith E. Gruber Associate Professor of Political Science at University of California, Berkeley. She is also an Associate Professor of Public Policy (by courtesy) at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy.
She holds a Ph.D. in Political Economics and an M.A. in Political Science from Stanford University; an MPA in International Development from Harvard University; an M.A. in Secondary Education from Loyola Marymount University; and a B.A. in Mathematics and Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Southern California. During the 2015-2016 academic year, she was a W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellow and the Robert Eckles Swain National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
Professor Mo specializes in behavioral political economy, comparative political behavior, the political economy of development, and social policy research. Her scholarly contributions can be broadly classified as being of two types.
First, she is substantively interested in the economic, political, and social consequences of increased inequality. Economic inequality has been rising sharply in the last three decades, as policy makers and political elites in many states have been prioritizing economic growth over economic inequality. What are the behavioral implications of this choice, which has made relative deprivation more salient among the masses? In a series of studies, she develops aspiration-based models of decision-making to develop testable predictions of how inequality affects individual decision-making like the following: (1) economic inequality increases risk-taking, which can lead to undesirable outcomes like increased labor exploitation, human trafficking, and unsafe migration; and (2) rising inequality can increase a disconnect between citizens’ aspirations and their actual living standards, and that disconnect may worsen in times of growth and prosperity, thereby engendering paradoxical political disaffection during times of economic prosperity.
Second, she is focused on understanding democratic citizenship and the development of informed interventions aimed at promoting the values and behaviors that define effective citizenship today. The health of a democratic polity rests upon the public possessing a sufficient level of political efficacy, civic engagement, tolerance, and respect for human rights. Without voters who display civic virtues, a democracy cannot fulfill its promise of liberal justice. Her research program centers on how norms and values of democratic citizenship can be cultivated (e.g., through national service programs). Moreover, her research aims to both understand and respond to the following challenges to democratic citizenship: (1) group-based intolerance (e.g., voter prejudice and anti-immigrant sentiment); (2) irrational or uninformed political participation (e.g., irrelevant events like college football games); (3) the lack of political engagement (e.g., low voter turnout or low political ambition among minority candidates); and (4) contemporary slavery or human trafficking.
In much of her work, she sheds new light on important policy-relevant research by viewing actors as boundedly rational, the notion that in decision-making, the rationality of individuals is limited by the cognitive constraints of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make decisions. Her research integrates theories of bounded rationality like aspiration-based frameworks, prospect theory, and unconscious attitudes into models and empirical analyses of political and economic decision-making. Taken as a whole, her research provides fundamental insights on how factors such as relative deprivation, perspective-taking, affect, and prejudice influence the way individuals make decisions at the very heart of politics, whether choosing between candidates for office, participating in the political process, or supporting different policies.
Professor Mo has published research in numerous outlets, including the American Journal of Political Science, the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Experimental Political Science, the Journal of Theoretical Politics, Political Behavior, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and World Development. She is the recipient of the American Political Science Association (APSA)’s 2020 Emerging Scholar in Elections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior Award, APSA’s 2015 Franklin L. Burdette/Pi Sigma Alpha Award for the best paper presented at the annual meeting, and the 2018 Roberta Sigel Early Career Scholar Best Paper Award from the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP). She was also awarded the 2018 Best Paper Award from APSA’s Elections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior Section, and both the 2019 and the 2016 Best Article Published in Political Behavior Award.