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OU Psychology £2 million international project to limit the spread of extremism

Political commentary on the streets of Gemmayze, East Beirut, Lebanon

A new international psychology research project, led by The Open University, will examine everyday extremism through a framework aiming to track, attune, and limit the evolution of extreme ideas.

Spread over three years and involving collaboration between 17 partners across Europe and beyond, the £2.7million Horizon-funded OppAttune project will help psychologists understand the drivers which influence the evolution of extreme ideas. In a substantial work programme, which involves two funded PhDs, researchers will focus on six key target groups: the general public, young citizens, media influencers, practitioners and policymakers, political actors, and the scientific research community.

OppAttune’s main innovation will be to develop an Attunement Model that will enable citizens to understand, analyse and develop a democratic capacity to engage in public dialogue with those whom they disagree.

The OU’s Prof. Kesi Mahendran is one of the lead scientific coordinators on the project, and an expert in exploring dialogue between citizens and their governments on vexed political questions such as migration, sovereignty, European and Global citizenship. Kesi commented on the proposed 2025 launch for the Attunement Model;

“Given the rise of ‘us vs. them’ logic where disinformation, conspiracy theories, and institutional mistrust are prevalent and risk undermining democracies across Europe, this intervention is timely and necessary. Rather than focusing on dialogue which engages in hate speech or incites violence, the aim is to understand and limit the spread of extreme narratives which occur during seemingly ‘common sense’ discussions about polarising issues – thus creating an ‘everyday extremism’.”

The Open University was one of the lead institutions at the inception of this project and will play a key role in assuring the project achieves its objectives. Researchers at the School of Psychology and Open Psychology Research Centre will be collaborating across the project with international partners.

Key Personnel:

  • Dr Sandra Obradovic is leading the multi-country ‘Vote for Me’ study which will explore the psychology behind the evolution of violent political transformations via political actors on social media.
  • Dr. Anthony English is a post-doctoral research fellow who is leading the multi-country sustained dialogue pairing study to understand how citizens could sustain dialogue when engaged in polarising discourse  on the issue of immigration.
  • One of the two funded PhD studentships will be led by Tetiana Shyriaeva and will focus on understanding the evolution of everyday extremism in the Ukraine, Hungary, and Russia, and how such narratives cross borders.
  • The second will be led by Evangelia Vergouli who will explore the factors which influence political decision-making amongst citizens and its impact on everyday extremism.
  • Prof Eleni Andreouli and Dr Evangelos Ntontis will be responsible for analysis and data collection in Greece.

For more information about the project and the partner universities, read more on the OU Research website.

Image credit: Unsplash (c) Brian Wertheim 

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