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Katerina Manevska receives NWO SSH Open Competition XS grant to study adult belief change

Date of news: 16 February 2023

Katerina Manevska received a NWO Open Competition XS grant for her project “Why do adults change their minds? Developing a new empirical strategy for studying adult belief change”. In this project, she will collaborate with an international network of researchers including Carolien van Ham (Radboud University), Willem de Koster (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Jeroen van der Waal (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Stephen Vaisey (Duke University), Mark Brandt (Michigan State University), Kaat Smets (Royal Holloway, London), and Paul Khiatani (Hong Kong Polytechnic University). Together, they will develop new empirical strategies for studying how, when and why adults change their political and cultural beliefs.

The starting point for the project is that it is often thought that people, once they reach adulthood, do not change their beliefs anymore. Yet, examples of belief change abound: adults who start believing in conspiracy theories, become disaffected from politics, or now acknowledge institutional racism. The bulk of empirical studies on adult belief change, however, finds evidence for stability rather than change. One reason for this might be that customary empirical strategies to study adult belief change are inadequate. This project therefor develops new empirical strategies for studying adult belief change.

During this project, Manevska and collaborators will work on a methodological paper that outlines these new empirical strategies, focusing on the comparative study of a broad range of beliefs, as well as on qualitative approaches to studying adult belief change. More specifically, the project develops an empirical strategy to measure ‘meaningful change’ both qualitatively and by using country-comparative panel data; provides a preliminary test for the quantitative approach on a selected range of topics using existing panel data; and lays the groundwork for building on the long-term ambition to obtain country-comparative panel data for a large number of countries on a wide range of political and cultural beliefs. These elements together will allow us to put the study of adult belief change back on the social scientific agenda and will provide concrete pointers to advance its empirical study.

Recent societal developments, such as the increase in the number of conspiracy thinkers, increased disaffection from politics, and increased awareness for institutional racism, are all indicative of rapid political and cultural change. Furthermore, pressing societal challenges, such as climate change, are bound to call for adult belief change. This is because beliefs are generally thought to underlie support for government measures and shape (political) behavior. As such, to deal with current and future societal challenges, more insights into adult belief change are urgently needed. Finding better strategies for empirically studying adult belief change is a vital step for gaining such insights.