European / International Joint Ph.D. in
Social Representation and Communication

Social representations of the stock market in financial advisors, investors & media

This empirical research program on “Social representations of the stock market in financial advisors, investors and media” investigates this important phenomenon (from the social mass, group and individual psychology perspective, and from the financial and economic viewpoint) in two cultural contexts where the stock market has been differently anchored: Europe (including three different countries: Italy, UK and France with relatively developed financial institutions) and China (a financial market with tremendous growth and development in the two past decades).

The majority of studies concerning stock market psychology are characterised by behavioural finance (see for example studies on biases in markets) or by experimental economics (implying the use of laboratory experiments to test propositions derived from economics and game theory). The literature produced in these research fields is usually entirely unrelated to social representations theory. Although some rare socio-psychological studies on the stock market refer to the theory of social representations – for example, Oberlechner (2004) investigated the social representations of decision makers involved in the stock market by using metaphor analysis, or Smith (1999, 2007), which drew a remarkable picture of how market behaviour is inherently more human than technical – they are not yet cross-cultural comprehensive field and media studies integrating qualitative and quantitative methods and carried out both on special target groups like professionals financial traders , investors and different media.
 Our research program was specifically designed within the paradigmatic framework of social representations theory (Moscovici, 1961/1976, 2000) in order to furnish a broad socio-dynamic interpretation of socio-psychological reality related to economic and financial phenomena (and in particular the psychology of the stock market in the current period of the financial-economic crisis) based on shared knowledge, concepts, metaphors, beliefs, attitudes and social practices.
This research programme is articulated around diversified, but interrelated, lines of inquiry mainly concerned with field research and media studies.
The first line of inquiry consisted in two field studies carried out in different cultural contexts (two different continents: Europe and China) in the same period (January-May 2010) and with the same research design and techniques (translated into from Italian into English and French, and from English into Chinese, each time controlled with back translations to the original source).

Both studies seek to model the social psychology of the stock market in special target groups (financial advisors and investors through financial advisors and autonomous online investors). They investigate the relations between individual socio-demographic profiles, the financial profile of each target group, a set of psychological dimensions (including time perspective, risk propensity, risk tolerance, trust, perceived influence of critical events in the media), assumed as mediational variables, and the social representations of the stock market (with their implicit metaphors). These last are assumed to be simultaneously shaped by and to lead financial practices, also regarding the financial crisis in the double temporal perspective (before and after).

Overall, 431 European subjects and 372 Chinese subjects were studied using the multi-method modelling approach (de Rosa, 1990, 2012). In this symposium we will present a selection of results based on the “associative network” (de Rosa, 2002, 2003, 2005) used to explore the content, structure and polarity of social representations of the stimulus word “stock market” in relation to three main dimensions among the many under scrutiny (“Trust”, “Time Perspective” and “Risk Perception”) as derived by other tools included in the multi-method design. The data – collected between January-May 2010 after the global financial crisis that exploded in the media during September 2008 – are analyzed by means of a multi-step method including correspondence analysis with Spad.T.

The other line of inquiry focuses on investigating the role of the traditional media (generalist and specialised press) and new media (social networks) in elaborating, disseminating, and transforming social representations of the stock market. In this case also two different continents have been studied: Europe (analysis of European journals, generalist and specialized, from Italy, UK and France (generalists: La Repubblica and La Tribune; specialized: Il Sole 24 OreThe Economist and Les Echos)) and China (China Daily –generalist – and China Securities Journal –specialized). 
In both contexts the studies conducted quantitative and qualitative analysis by applying the Alceste software to the information collected using a grid of analysis for the structure and content of media organized into five sections: general information about the publication (type of journal, qualification and political orientation of the author, thematic area, title of the article, date, editorial place, presence on the home page); frequencies of the keyword “stock market”; related metaphors and conceptual links with other stimuli (chance, gambling, past, competition, security, norms, future, profit, fortune, need for consultancy, stock exchange, destiny, present, risk, saving); social representations of finance and economy; trust/distrust towards heterogeneous agents (networks of promoters, online banks, local banks, national banks, international banks, European Bank (ECB), Federal Reserve (Fed), World Bank, national ministry of the economy, national government, European Council of Economic Ministers, national regulatory authority, European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD), European Investment Bank (EIB), G7, G8, G20); the temporal and geographic perspectives.

The results will be discussed also in relation to the account alternative to the representation of economics and finance based on theories and statistical models of economic behaviours that emerged from the preliminary results of our research program. Based on media analysis, this shows that social representations split between “good” real and productive economics versus “bad” speculative and virtual finance.