Psychological Perspectives on Participatory Culture: Core Motives for the Use of Political Internet Memes


  • Anne Leiser


Political Internet memes significantly contribute to discourse around contemporary events. By studying memes, scholars understand these ‘units of culture’ as forms of participatory content that can fulfill political functions. To explore whether users ascribe memes a political role and consider them an alternative to or supplement of traditional political participation, this study provides a user-centered perspective focusing on core motives of meme use. Via a Delphi method interview approach, participants discuss uses and gratifications of memes in political contexts. A qualitative content analysis provides insight into the role and impact of memes in social movements and everyday politics. The findings show that users perceive memes as a tool for easy, effortless engagement in the public sphere driven by the interplay of self-expression, social identity, and entertainment motives. Participants also discuss potentials and limitations of memes in political contexts, concluding that political memes can only support other efforts. The study contributes to our understanding of memes from a psychological perspective and establishes a basis for further research on deliberative political practices from a user perspective.