Sumitra Badrinathan selected as CASI Sobti Family Fellow 2020-2021

Sumitra Badrinathan has been selected as one of the first two Sobti Family Doctoral Fellows at the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) for the 2020–21 academic year.

Established through a generous gift from Penn parents, Rajiv Sobti GR’84 and Slomi Sobti, the Sobti Family Fellowship is designed to support the University of Pennsylvania graduate students in their research related to India’s current politics, society, economy, and international relations. The Sobti Family Doctoral Fellows receive $12,500 each to develop independent research interests broadly related to CASI’s agenda.

Sumitra Badrinathan joins CASI from Mumbai, India, and is currently entering her fifth year as a doctoral student in the Political Science Department of Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. Her research interests include the study of misinformation, effects on media, and comparative politics with a regional focus on modern India.

In Sumitra’s words: “My dissertation evaluates the effectiveness of interventions to combat political misinformation in India and the power of partisanship and motivated reasoning to affect information processing. To answer these questions, I develop and use experimental and survey methods to study the relationship between newer forms of media like WhatsApp and their effect on fake news, polarization, political participation, and quality of democracy. While my past work has focused on social pressure to fight fake news on WhatsApp and digital literacy trainings to decrease vulnerability to misinformation, the Sobti Fellowship will aid new lines of research surrounding COVID-19 in India. As the country battles extreme poverty, large crowds, densely populated areas, and a stretched health system, the wave of inaccuracy about the virus that has flooded Indians’ phones have the potential to threaten millions of lives.

To this end I ask two distinct but related questions: How can we effectively correct misinformed health beliefs and pseudoscientific remedies, particularly when they are rooted in tradition and difficult to change? And what is the effect of exposure to anti-minority misinformation and hateful speech on attitudes towards social groups, violence, and democratic norms in India?”

Sumitra received her MA in Political Science from the University of Chicago and her BA in Psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. In 2019, Sumitra received the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students. Her research has received prior support from CASI, the Judith Rodin Research Fellowship, and the Russel Ackoff Fellowship.