Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stalin's 'cult of personality'

Stalin’s ability to persuade the Soviet people to embrace his brand of communism was achieved through a variety of coercive and persuasive techniques. Despite the terror and bloodshed he brought to the Soviet Union, he was seen as a beloved figure who allegedly saved the nation (people across the country actively mourned his death), showing the extent of his influence.  His achievement of a ‘cult of personality’ allowed him to be perceived as a heroic and fatherly figure to the people of the Soviet Union.

The success of Stalin’s ability to persuade the masses of his unquestionable – and desirable – authority can be attributed to use of a ‘norm of reciprocity’ tactic. By portraying himself as someone who was looking after the people, and improving their lives and the whole society, he was able to convince them of the necessity of his Five Year Plans. This made them willing to work excessively hard, thereby further securing his position as a powerful world leader.

The norm of reciprocity is a useful persuasion tactic, as it is a social norm to want to repay a favour in kind (Becker, 1956). Research has shown that desire to repay a favour increased significantly increased compliance in public situations (Whatley , Webster , Smith, & Rhodes, 2010). This study manipulated a ‘favour’ condition where a confederate bought the participant sweets whilst waiting to participate, and a ‘no-favour’ condition where no sweets were given (Whatley, Webster, Smith, & Rhodes, 2010). Participants were then asked to fill out an unrelated charity-pledge form for the confederate, who allegedly had to leave early. Public-condition manipulation occurred by asking participants to write identifying details on the form (Whatley, Webster, Smith, & Rhodes, 2010). The results of this study conveyed that desire to reciprocate a favour increases compliance (likelihood of donating money), especially when it will be recognised by others. In the case of Soviet Russia, people made a public effort to work harder, because they perceived they owed Stalin – and their country – this.

Becker, H. (1956). Man in Reciprocity. New York: Prager.

Whatley, M.A., Webster, M.J., Smith, R.H., & Rhodes, A. (2010). The effect of a favour on public and private compliance: how internalized is the norm of reciprocity? Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 21, 251-259.

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