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.
Michael Bang Petersen utilizes theories and methods from evolutionary psychology to tackle research questions within political science. His work has appeared in numerous journals including American Political Science Review, Psychological Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He is member of the Young Academy of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and received the 2017 Early Career Award from the International Society of Political Psychology.