Epistemic Motivations, Political Identity, and Misperceptions about COVID and the 2020 Election

This event has passed.

Part of the Speaker Series on Misinformation, co-sponsored by the NULab at Northeastern University.

This event occurred on April 22, 2021. More about the speaker and the research can be found below the video.


Dannagal G. Young and Erin Maloney

While misperceptions about COVID and the 2020 election are attributable to various informational, political, and psychological factors, this project explores the intersection of two specific factors as they relate to misperceptions in the context of health and politics:  political identity and epistemic motivations. How we tend to make sense of our worlds – through intuition-based and/or evidence-based processes – has important implications for our susceptibility to mis and disinformation (Garrett & Weeks, 2017; Swami et al., 2014). Evidence from political psychology suggests that these styles of meaning -making are increasingly tied to political identity, with social and cultural conservatives more likely to value intuition and liberals more motivated to engage in reflective thought (Deppe et al., 2015; Oliver & Wood, 2018). The current project integrates these bodies of research to understand a) whether “Trumpism” (Trump favorability minus Biden favorability) is especially highly correlated with epistemic motivations (greater reliance on intuitive thought and less reflective thought), b) whether epistemic motivations are a significant predictor of misperceptions about both COVID and the 2020 election, and c) whether Trumpism can be conceptualized as the manifestation of a certain combination of epistemic motivations that further encourages misperceptions on the part of Trump’s already-instinct-driven supporters. Preliminary findings from this ongoing research project were discussed in this talk from April 22, 2021.

Dannagal G. Young (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, 2007) is a Professor of Communication and Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware where she studies the content, audience, and effects of non-traditional political information. She has authored over forty academic articles and book chapters exploring themes related to political entertainment, media psychology, public opinion, and misinformationShe is also a dedicated public scholar, with appearances on CNN, MSNBC, and PBS and having written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Vox. Her 2019 book “Irony and Outrage“ examines satire and outrage as the logical extensions of the respective psychological profiles of liberals and conservatives (Oxford University Press, 2020). Dr. Young’s current book project (with JHU Press) explores how identity fuels misinformation and how our socially sorted political media ecosystem reinforces these patterns. Young was awarded the University of Delaware’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2014 and is a TED Speaker.