Student Spotlight: Matthew Jiwa

Matthew Jiwa, PhD candidate, is investigating how we decide what information to pursue.

Having already completed an undergraduate degree with honours in the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Matthew Jiwa was keen to further his studies through the graduate research program. His research interests lie in answering the question of why people choose to view the information that they do in the face of countless opportunities to receive information, from breaking news to celebrity gossip to our own genetic ancestry. Matthew’s research aims to shed some light on our decisions around which information to pursue and where we choose to get it from.

For Matthew, the concept of ‘information search’ is both fascinating and relevant in the current climate. It is essential that we understand the implications of our existing biases – towards information that supports our prior beliefs, for example – for social media algorithms and insular media ecosystems that are designed to feed us more of what we prefer to see. While young people might be more media and internet-literate than older generations, making them better at falsifying blatant misinformation, they are still susceptible to falling into echo chambers of confirmatory beliefs. The division and distrust this can sow among friends and family can be damaging and heartbreaking, so the more we understand this issue, the more we can do to combat it.

Matthew has enjoyed working across a variety of tasks during his PhD study, including reading, data analysis and teaching, and has developed a wide range of new skills. His advice to new students is to take advantage of opportunities to hear about others’ research by attending colloquia, talks and workshops organised by the School and its hubs. Exposure to diverse topics, even when not directly relevant to his own, has helped Matthew to gain a better understanding of the areas he might pursue in future. He hopes one day to work with an organisation such as or Politifact, which are dedicated to assessing the accuracy of political statements and reducing misperceptions but need help to address significant challenges like speeding up the procedure of fact-checking and scaling an often time-consuming operation.

When he’s not studying, Matthew likes to cook and play cricket. His cat, Freya, has been a reliable study companion, particularly throughout the recent lockdowns, by attending zoom meetings and ensuring Matthew takes regular breaks to pay attention to her.