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Constitutional Tension: The Role of Framing, Regulatory Focus, and Anticipated Emotion When Establishment and Free Exercise Norms Collide

Katherine M. K Kimble, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The conflict between establishment and free exercise norms regularly litters the media, particularly when religion is involved in areas of public life, such as schools, meetings, and displays on public property. Although the conflict is inherently psychological, no psychological research has yet delved into the issue. This dissertation reports on four studies that apply prospect theory, regulatory focus theory, and affective forecasting to explore the ways in which lay people perceive the establishment–free exercise tension. Prospect theory and regulatory focus theory offer competing hypotheses regarding the consideration of gains and losses related to each right and affective forecasting theory qualifies those outcomes by considering actual and predicted emotions. Study 1 created, tested, and validated the Accommodation versus Separation Preference Questionnaire (ASPQ), a 23-item questionnaire that measures individual preference for accommodation and separation of religion and the public sphere. Experiments 1, 2, and 3 described (1) the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to participants (free exercise or establishment clause) and (2) framed either the free exercise or establishment clause to focus on the gains associated with the clause or the losses the clause prevents. Participants also reported their own anticipated and experienced emotions during Experiments 1, 2, and 3, as well as predicted the anticipated and experienced emotions of another decision-maker. Participants made decisions regarding prayer at a public school event (Experiment 1), prayer at a legislative meeting (Experiment 2), and a Ten Commandments display on state property (Experiment 3). Taken together, findings from Experiments 1, 2, and 3 offer mixed support for prospect theory, regulatory focus theory, and perspective taking in affective forecasting. The results of the three experiments demonstrate the importance and influence of a subjective reference point from which decision making is approached. The current research sheds light on decision making in three free exercise–establishment contexts, opening aspects right for future research. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Kimble, Katherine M. K, "Constitutional Tension: The Role of Framing, Regulatory Focus, and Anticipated Emotion When Establishment and Free Exercise Norms Collide" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30575170.