Funding to investigate how economic inequality impacts our perceptions and beliefs

  • Date

    Wed 11 Dec 19

Frederike Mengel

An Essex academic has won £100,000 of funding to look into the factors which influence our understanding of the truth and in turn lead to inequality in society.

Professor Friederike Mengel, from the Department of Economics, has been awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize – one of 30 awarded this year to recognise the achievement of outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising.  

Professor Mengel believes people’s perception of reality is coloured by their background, the groups they belong to and the conversations they have with family and friends and on social media. But this can lead to discrimination and a growing lack of trust in authority, as decisions which affect us all, are made based on a mismatch in understanding. 

As she explained:  “When policy makers decide policies they tend to do it assuming the people the policies are for, think in the same way they do.  But research has shown that’s not the case. Factors such as political leaning or a person’s experiences when growing up can drastically change what they believe to be the truth. 

“This mismatch in understanding of the facts is important because it leads to inequality. The level of inequality is quite striking in the UK, compared with other European countries. If politicians had a clearer understanding of the impact of inequality, beyond the economic consequences, it would help them to make better policies and re-establish trust, which has been eroded.”  

The project will study the psychological impact of inequality focusing in particular on its impact on people’s trust in institutions and politics. 

The funding, from the Leverhulme Trust, is for three years and will start next November.