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Fake news, culture and heuristics

  • Delivery:
    Full time according to Funding Council definitions

Misinformation in the form of fake news has become a characteristic of the 21st century, driven by technologies such as social media platforms that enable information to spread quickly and to be targeted at individual beliefs, biases and emotions. One factor that may be of importance is culture. Cultures vary on several dimensions, including individualism vs collectivism, power distance, masculinity vs femininity and uncertainty avoidance. It is reasonable to expect that different types of fake news would spread more easily in different cultures. Another possibly relevant factor is decision making heuristics. These refer to quick decisions that we make based on limited information. The use of heuristics may be in part determined in the cultural context in which the decision is being made, however there is a lack of research in this area.

This PhD will make an important and novel contribution to what is an increasingly important social issue. The limited academic research that has been conducted to date on this topic has focussed on the how and what of the spread of fake news – the PhD will make a fundamental contribution by addressing the why.

This is a fully-funded PhD studentship which includes a stipend of £15,000 each year to support your living costs.

Key information

Next start date:

27 January 2020


Talbot Campus, Bournemouth University


36 months

Entry requirements:

Outstanding academic potential as measured by either a 1st class honours degree or a Master’s degree with distinction or equivalent Grade Point Average (GPA). If English is not your first language you'll need IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 minimum (with a minimum 6.0 in each component). For more information check out our full entry requirements

Project details

The PhD would consist of several stages. The first would be an analysis of fake news stories on social media. Depending on the social media platform and the metadata available additional data will be collected, such as the age and gender of the social media users. Software will then be used to determine how different types of social media propagate through different cultures, and if this is associated with any particular user groups. The second stage will then use a combination of fake news stories identified in the first stage along several well-known fake news stories. The language and imagery used in these stories will be analysed in detail to determine if they differ between cultures, and if this is consistent with the characteristics of that culture and the associated heuristics. 

This is a match funded PhD studentship that is supported by the Army Research Office of the US Department of the Army.

View the full project description (PDF 104Kb).

The closing date for applications is 31 October 2019.


Dr John McAlaney

John is a Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist and Associate Professor of Psychology. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Stirling, his MSc at the University of Strathclyde and then his PhD at the University of West of Scotland in 2007. John's PhD was on the topic of social psychology and substance use, looking particularly at misperceptions of peer norms. Following this he worked on an AERC funded post-doc position at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before moving onto a lecturing post at the University of Bradford in 2008. He joined the Department of Psychology at Bournemouth in 2014. John is currently undertaking the role of Head of Education, alongside his colleague Dr Jane Elsley.

Dr Shelley Thompson

Shelley Thompson is the Interim Head of the School of Journalism, English and Communication in the Faculty of Media and Communication. She is a science journalism scholar, specialising in the reporting of emerging and controversial science. Her current research considers the under-representation of women's voices in news debates about science, following her intervention at the UN Conference on Women and Girls in Science and the Role of the Media in February 2017.

Shelley is a former US journalist who worked at a variety of publications covering finance and securities regulation in New York City to politics, education, crime, and health at the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Eagle-Tribune in its New Hampshire bureau. While working at the Eagle-Tribune and its sister publication the Derry News, she received several awards for her reporting, including investigative reporting awards and a First Amendment award for a series on a secret government payment to a public employee leaving his job.


A fully-funded Studentship includes a maintenance grant of £15,000 per year to contribute towards living expenses during the course of your research, as well as a fee waiver for 36 months.

Associated costs, such as for fieldwork and conference attendance, will also be met under the Studentship.

Academic Support

The Research Development Programme, developed by the Doctoral College in line with the Researcher Development Framework (Vitae).

An added benefit is the opportunity to meet researchers from other academic schools at BU through the activities of the Doctoral College and benefit from their experiences, skills, and perspectives.

Full entry requirements

The PhD Studentships are open to UK, EU and international students. Candidates for a PhD Studentship should demonstrate outstanding qualities and be motivated to complete a PhD in 4 years and must demonstrate:

  • Outstanding academic potential as measured by either a 1st class honours degree or a Master’s degree with distinction or equivalent Grade Point Average (GPA)
  • An IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 minimum (with a minimum 6.0 in each component) for candidates for whom English is not their first language and this must be evidenced at point of application.

In addition to satisfying minimum entry criteria, BU will look closely at the qualities, skills and background of each candidate and what they can bring to their chosen research project in order to ensure successful completion.

Applicants will be asked to submit an online application form and a proposal (approximately 1500 words) outlining their understanding of the project for which they are applying, the approach they would envisage taking and what qualities they will bring to the research community.

Please note:

  • Current BU Doctoral students are not eligible to apply for a Studentship
  • Current MRes/MPhil students can apply, subject to satisfactory completion of their Research Degree prior to being able to take up the award
  • PhD Studentships cannot be used to support BU staff to complete doctoral programmes.

International entry requirements

If English is not your first language, you will need to provide evidence that you can understand English to a satisfactory level. English language requirements for this course are normally: 

IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 (with a minimum 6.0 in each component) or equivalent.

View further information about our English language requirements.

A number of pre-sessional English and preparatory programmes are offered through our partner institution, Bournemouth University International College, and will get you ready for study at BU at the appropriate level.

You can also find further details of the international qualifications we accept, and what level of study they apply to, on our postgraduate entry requirements page.

How to apply

Click the green ‘Apply now’ button at the top of the page and complete the online application form. You can find further guidance about applying for a postgraduate research degree in our Postgraduate Research section.

The closing date for applications 31 October 2019. 


A research degree can open new career opportunities in commercial research and development, consultancy, or could lead you to starting your own business. You may alternatively consider a career in academia. You may wish to undertake research to contribute to your knowledge of a specialist subject, or develop your employability by enhancing your skills in project management and analysis.


The Doctoral College

See how we work alongside Academic Schools and the Faculty to support the postgraduate community at BU.

Science forensic toxicology research

Fees and funding

Find out about the fees and different funding options for postgraduate research degrees.