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.