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Michael Bang Petersen


Current position: Professor, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark.

During his Jens Christian Skou fellowship Professor Michael Bang Petersen worked on the project "Political Rumors: Why Do They Spread and How Can They Be Stopped?".

Project at AIAS

Politics has changed. Citizens once passively received their news from a select number of mass media. Today, in the age of the Internet, citizens increasingly receive news via social media and are actively engaged in disseminating the news stories themselves. One consequence of this fundamental change is that rumors, i.e., difficult-to-verify information, abound in politics. This project contributes to our understanding of political rumors (1) by building a general theory of the psychology that motivates people to spread political rumors. By identifying the precise psychological mechanisms involved, the project will (2) develop strategies for media, government officials and politicians for reducing these motivations and, hence, the negative impact of political rumors. Theoretically, the project combines the insights from biology, psychology and the social sciences to argue (a) for the existence of basic psychological motivations for spreading rumors to mobilize against enemies, (b) that these motivations are activated in the context of modern polarized politics, and (b) that modern social media technology magnifies the impact of these motivations; hence, furthering political polarization and conflict and creating a downward-spiral of political trust.   

Project title:

Political Rumors: Why Do They Spread and How Can They Be Stopped?

Area of research:

Political Science

Fellowship period:

1 Feb 2018 – 31 Jan 2019

Fellowship type:

Jens Christian Skou fellow 

This fellowship has received funding from The Aarhus University Research Foundation.