Xiaoxiao Shen - Postdoctoral Associate in East Asian Studies and Lecturer in Political Science
The existing literature on propaganda in authoritarian systems is largely focused on top-down propaganda strategies, such as whether propaganda persuades or intimidates, and how effective different sources of propaganda and types of propaganda content are. This research instead examines propaganda from the bottom-up perspective, looking into how the unique traits of those who are exposed to propaganda influence its effectiveness. Primarily this literature examines demographics like education levels, family backgrounds, political awareness, and whether the individual lives in an urban or rural area. However, this paper proposes a novel bottom-up perspective by analyzing the power of people’s deep-seeded psychological yearnings to impact propaganda effectiveness. It strives to answer the question of how propaganda works by resonating with the psychological needs that people who are exposed to the propaganda have. Various methods were used, including two series of online survey experiments, interviews, a virtual lab-in-the-field mobile app (which was developed by this research scholar) experiment, and text analysis derived from state news media. Using China as a case study example, the three studies conducted in this paper found that as each person has their own different psychological needs, propaganda works the best when the psychological need it is designed to appeal to matches the psychological need an individual strongly feels. Going deeper, propaganda news aimed at appealing to ego-defensive needs (i.e. the psychological need to maintain self-esteem) is particularly effective for the Chinese population, in general. But it is unlikely — at least in the short term — to change individuals’ psychological needs enough to alter their information-seeking behaviors and pro-regime attitudes.
Xiaoxiao Shen obtained a PhD in Politics from Princeton University. Her research interests span from comparative political behavior, political psychology, authoritarian politics, and to quantitative methods, with a specific focus on understanding citizens’ political attitudes and behavior from psychology in authoritarian countries. Her work has appeared in British Journal of Political Science, Governance, and World Development. Prior to Princeton, she obtained a B.Sc in Mathematics with Statistics from Imperial College London and an M.Phil in Social Science from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.