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Psychology of Political Risk in Autocracy


Many authoritarian regimes use the threat of repression to suppress dissent. Theory from psychology suggests that emotions should affect how citizens perceive and process information about repression risk, and ultimately how they behave. I test the implications of this view for understanding dissent in autocracy by running a lab-in-the-field experiment with 671 opposition supporters in Zimbabwe. In the experiment, I randomly assign some participants to an exercise that induces a state of fear. The fear treatment reduces participation in a behavioral measure of dissent by 14-23%, and increases pessimism and risk aversion. These effects may lead to variation in real participation in dissent: self-efficacy, a psychological characteristic that influences emotional reactions to threats, is a better predictor of dissent than access to information and communication technology or strength of identification with the opposition. These effects suggest that fear may be used strategically by autocrats to suppress dissent.


Speaker Bio:

Lauren Young is a Postdoctoral Fellow at CDDRL. Her research aims to understand how citizens make decisions when faced with the threat of political violence. Her dissertation uses a mix of experimental, quasi-experimental, and qualitative methods with more than 2,100 total participants to investigate how emotions influence decisions to participate in pro-democracy dissent using the case of Zimbabwe. Lauren is currently working on projects that test for similar effects in the context of narco-trafficking, violent crime, and police abuse. Lauren received her PhD in Political Science with distinction from Columbia University in May 2016 and holds a BA from Stanford University with honors in International Security Studies. She is also a non-resident postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Global Development.