We are looking for 2 PhD candidates to join a new research project lead by Dr. Bert N. Bakker (PI), supported by an NWO VIDI grant. The project is embedded in the Hot Politics Lab (an interdisciplinary research group focusing on political psychology) and the Amsterdam School of Communication Research at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.
This project starts with the observations that with a pandemic, the war in Ukriane, climate change, terrorist attacks, and financial meltdowns, we have in the last twenty years experienced multiple threats that potentially could have (or will in the future) fundamentally alter our way of life. Threats have adverse effects when they erode democratic stability by sparking violence and fuelling support for anti-democratic politics. However, threats might benefit society when they trigger desired behaviour, such as reducing the eco-footprint or getting a vaccination. Given the complex role of threat in society, it is crucial to understand better the processes underlying people's threat perceptions and develop strategies for mitigating the adverse effects and stimulating the beneficial effects of threat perceptions on democracy and society. This project bridges theories from communication science, psychology, and neuroscience by the overarching research question: How do people perceive and regulate threats and adopt political attitudes and behaviours to counter these threats.
In this project, we will be studying the explicit (self-reported) and implicit (psychophysiological) instantiations of threats and their interplay. To do this, the project will use an innovative mixed-methods design: in-depth interviews, cross-country surveys, survey experiments, and laboratory experiments, as well as intensive experience sampling studies that track threats over multiple days. The project description can be found here
.What are you going to do
The basic plans for the PhD projects are stated below. These will be adapted to the interest and expertise of the hired candidates.PhD 1
focuses on the causes and consequences of societal threats. Research in political communication suggests elite cues cause people to see issues and events as threatening or not. Drawing upon appraisal theory (Scherer & Moors, 2019), one might expect that controllability and distance to the threat are causing threat perceptions. Step 1 in this project is to study the causes (elite cues, framing) that elicit perceptions of societal threats among citizens. In step 2, we will be exploring the causes of these societal threat perceptions to answer the question whether citizens adopt political attitudes and behaviours to counter the threat. The empirical approach of this project consists of survey-experiments, laboratory-based experiments using physiological measures (skin conductance, facial EMG) as well as eye-tracking, and computer-assisted content analysis.PhD 2
focuses on the question to what extent citizens regulate societal threats, and to what extent does the regulation of threat condition the effects of threats on politics? In this project, we will be analysing the common threat regulation strategies in response to societal threats and their effect on political attitudes and behaviours to tackle the threat. In response to a threat, people could, for instance, engage in: cognitive reappraisal and reframe situations to change the emotional impact (e.g., climate change is threatening, but there is hope as climate change offers opportunities to recreate a better society); down-regulation and lower the intensity of the threat (about, for instance, climate change); or distraction and direct attention away from the threat (e.g., shifting attention from climate change to other (non-)political topics that are not threatening). PhD 2 will be exploring why, when and how people regulate societal and imagined threats and the consequences this has for the effects of threats on politics. The empirical approach consists of in-depth interviews, surveys, experience sampling (or diary) studies, and experiments.