Social Psychology of Autocracy and Democracy

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Psych 145d
Spring 2008
Social Science I Room 161
Tuesday & Thursday 8:00-9:45 am

Instructor: Anthony R. Pratkanis
Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 10:00-11:00 am
Office: Social Science II Room 365
Messages can be left at 459-5085

Humans are the only animal capable of living in both authoritarian and democratic regimes. The purpose of this course is to explore the nature of these forms of social relationships with a goal of promoting democracy. Topics include: obedience to authority, conformity, self-justification, propaganda, power, and conflict resolution. The course will begin with an overview of the nature of autocracy and democracy. This will be followed by looking at a series of threats to democracy that give rise to authoritarian regimes along with checks and balances to counter these threats. The course will then look at how to develop skills of pro-social behavior and conflict resolution needed in democracies.

At the end of the course, the student should master these objectives:

(a)State and describe the major experimental findings concerning the social psychological processes involved in autocracies and democracies.

(b)Describe the nature of autocratic regimes and develop strategies for preventing the rise of such regimes.

(c)Describe the nature of democracy and develop strategies for responding to John Dewey’s statement that “every generation must discover democracy anew.”

(d)Understand the responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy.

Textbooks (all in paperback)

Stanley Milgram Obedience to Authority
Philip Zimbardo The Lucifer Effect
Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson Mistakes were Made but Not by Me
Roger Fisher, William Ury, & Bruce Patton Getting to Yes

Plus readings available through pdf (see last page of syllabus)

Course Norms

This course deals with political issues that some may find sensitive and for which people of good faith may disagree. For that reason, the course adopts the following social norms to govern class discussion and behavior:

If you cannot agree to abide by these norms, you should drop the course.

Course Format

The course consists of lectures and class discussions plus assigned readings. (Assigned text should be read in conjunction with the lecture). The course evaluation will be based on: (1) six homework assignments, (2) a major poster project, (3) class exercises involving discussion of projects, and (4) participation in class discussions plus any additional comments that the instructor considers appropriate. All written assignments must be submitted in writing – no emailing of assignments. The narrative evaluation will consist of a short summary of the student’s performance in the course. Note: if the course is taken for Pass/No Pass, then a grade of "Good (C)" or better must be earned to obtain course credit. Under the pass/no pass option, a grade of D (marginal pass) or F (no pass) results in a no pass for the course.

Homework Assignments

The purpose of the homework assignments is to (a) reinforce core concepts from the lectures and readings and (b) allow the student to apply these concepts to novel examples. Each assignment should be completed as noted on the course calendar. In completing the assignment, students will be given a problem to be analyzed. Homework assignments should be typed, well written (see below), and as brief as possible. Multi-page papers should be stapled before submission.

The homework assignments will look at:

1. Conflict in utopias
2. Obedience to classroom authorities
3. Social pressure and democracy
4. Reduction of a rationalization trap
5. Power and corruption
6. Conflict resolution

Poster Projects

The purpose of the poster project is to provide an opportunity to apply the critical information of the course to an area of particular interest to the student. Specifically, the poster project consists of a social influence analysis applying the course principles and knowledge to resolving a conflict and promoting democracy. To complete this topic, students must first select an issue or problem facing the promotion of democracy. Some examples of problems and issues include: conflict resolution (such as the genocides in Darfur and Bosnia/Kosovo, human rights violations in China, Iranian nuclear development, Israel/Palestine conflict, Obama v Clinton in the Democratic party), authoritarian abuse of power, (e.g., cultic influence, My Lai massacre, North Korean regime), a problem confronting mature democracies (e.g., mass media and democracy), or the promotion of democracy abroad (in countries developing or attempting to develop democracy) or at home (reduction of social pressures in a given domain; promotion of education and childrearing to promote democratic values). This problem can be historic or contemporary. Next, the student should develop a policy intervention and recommend a democratic solution to the problem.

This analysis should begin with understanding the problem using the principles described in the course including:

Obedience to authority
Conformity pressures
Power of the situation
Power structure
Granfalloons (ethnic strife)

Next, the student should use the principles of the course to suggest ways to democratically resolve the issue using such course principles as:

Getting to yes
Promoting pro-social behavior
Checks and balances on power
Jigsaw and other prejudice reduction methods
Constitutional processes

This paper should be as short as possible (no more than 10 pages). It should be written as a briefing paper for a policy maker. In other words, after a brief description of the problem, there should be a succinct presentation of specific problems to be addressed along with recommendations for solutions. Bullet lists should be used whenever possible. (Note: most policy makers do not have time for long reports and need to be able to skim the paper for important points.)

The class project should be ambitious and challenging in scope. Students should attempt to attack a problem of substance and importance and should view this project as if it were being submitted to an audience outside of this class and UCSC (i.e. an article for publication or a project report for an employer). In order to accomplish this goal, students will work in groups of 3 class members. In work groups, students should be able to accomplish a project that includes doing the necessary historical research about the issue or problem and developing effective intervention strategies. Evaluations will be shared equally among all group members.

The poster project requires the following: First, find a group and a topic. (See calendar for dates for submitting a preliminary statement of group members and topic; this statement should include a list of group members, the topic of the poster in general terms, and a statement of at least 2 hours per week when the group can meet). Second, develop your poster idea. As part of this development, submit a statement of intent and poster plan, which includes your topic, the names of the group members, an overview of tasks to be performed, and a detailed description of tasks to be performed along with who will done each task and when. Note: submission of this statement of intent should be done early in the term. (See course calendar for due date statement of intent and poster plan). Third, do the research. Fourth, prepare a poster describing what your research has shown (see next paragraph) along with a copy of the written materials for submission to the instructor. (The written copy is due at the Poster Session. This can be a short summary of the poster or a copy of the text of the poster and includes the title of the poster and the names of group members). Fifth, display your poster at the end-of-term Poster Session. During this session, one group member must stay with the poster at all times to answer questions. Students not presenting posters will mix freely around the posters to discuss research content and provide feedback to the presenters.

Physically, each group will have roughly 8 feet of wall space to display their research. Typically, a poster consists of a series of pages or panels describing the research. For example, one page may outline the research hypothesis. Another page may list the methods, followed by results, and then discussion. Given the nature of posters, print must be large and text kept to simple sentences and phrases. Students should not feel limited to just text material and can include graphs, slides, audio-visuals, computer displays, and models. It is the responsibility of the group to bring materials for setting up the poster and attaching it to the wall, as well as, securing any additional materials need for presentation. Note: please use pushpins or other devices that will not damage walls when securing your posters. A copy of the written text of the poster plus any supporting materials must be turned-in to the instructor at the Poster Session. This written material must contain the title of the project and the full names of each contributing member. It can also include a copy of the materials displayed on the poster plus anything else the group wishes to submit. (The grade will be based on the material in the poster and not on the written material).

A good poster project has the following attributes: (1) integrative of course material, (2) original and creative, (3) informative and instructional (provides a learning experience for both reader and writer), and (4) readable. The format of the paper must follow American Psychological Association guidelines as much as possible.

Some tactics for improving the style of your poster include: (1) use tables, figures, charts, and headings to improve organization, (2) get to the point quickly, (3) use simple words and sentences, (4) type it, (5) don't hand in a first draft (revise to get the lard out), (6) use proper footnote and reference formats, and (7) make it short (don't waste anybody's time, more than 10 pages is probably too long). Further hints on writing can be found in Strunk and White's Elements of Style, J.D. Lester's Writing Research Papers, Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations, and Soden's Looking Good on Paper.

Some tactics for improving content include: (1) select a topic related to the course, (2) use information related to the course, (3) collect your own data (e.g., interviews, write groups, locate articles in academic journals), (4) back up your statements with references to published works or other data, and (5) draw your own inferences that go beyond mere repetition of those of your references.

Group Work. Working in groups is often challenging, but it is a skill that is required in various settings. First, you should be prepared to work with your group at times outside of class to be scheduled by your group. Second, to facilitate group work, it is helpful to develop a written list of responsibilities assigned to each group member. This list should detail exactly what is expected of each member (e.g., listing all anticipated tasks and describing each member's responsibilities including who will co-ordinate group activities). This will help everyone in the group to know what is expected. Third, you should be aware of your group's process at all times. It is the responsibility of group members, not that of the instructor, to ensure the performance of each member.

Selecting Team Members. One important ingredient for a successful poster project is selecting group members with compatible goals and complementary skills. Here are some attributes to consider in selecting fellow group members:
After assessing the skills and attributes you need in a group member to reach your goals, you should think of questions that will allow you to document whether or not the potential group member has that skill/attribute or not. In addition, you should think of how you will document desired skills should you be asked by others to do so. Some ways to do this include asking potential group members for references (people who have worked with them on group projects in the past), to submit writing samples, or to demonstrate stats and computer skills. Assessment of potential group members is essential to realizing your goals. For example, suppose you are a social loafer who wants a good grade without doing the work. It is imperative that you find a very smart and nice person to do all the work for you. Imagine the calamity should the other group members be social loafers or your patsy is incompetent or isn’t very nice and decides to fire you! Suppose you want to go to grad school and thus want to do a really great project as a way of learning needed skills. Imagine your chagrin if everyone else is a social loafer!
Facilitating Group Dynamics. To facilitate your work in groups, go to the following web site before beginning the project:

This web site has information on the following: basic information on working in teams, managing tasks, managing members, managing interactions and meetings, managing the team context, along with links to other resources. In addition, you may also want to set up a Yahoo Group to allow you to monitor your group’s progress. Yahoo Groups allows you to keep a calendar, upload files, set up an email distribution list, and other useful things. You may use this group to upload files, keep project files, keep information accessible to all members, and so forth. To set up a Yahoo group, go to the Yahoo groups web page and follow the instructions for setting up a group (see the extensive Yahoo help files if you need help). Be sure to make the group private so that only members can join. Invite all the members of the group to join (you do this by sending an email message to them). Note: a Yahoo Group (or similar forum) is one way to document poor performance of a group member, if you seek to remove that member from the group.

Firing Group Members. To deal with group members who are not fulfilling their responsibilities, your group has the option of firing irresponsible group members.  A group member who is not fulfilling his or her responsibilities must be issued one written warning signed by each remaining member of the group informing the individual that the remainder of the group feels that she or he is not fulfilling the responsibilities assigned to him or her.  The written warning should be dated and detail the responsibilities that have been neglected. A group member who has received a written warning who continues to neglect responsibilities may be fired by the group.  Again, a dated written notice signed by the remaining group members should be issued to the individual who is fired. Any members fired by their groups have two options:  (1) persuading another group to accept them into it as members or (2) completing the poster assign individually (Note: in this case, the poster project will be graded using the same high expectations as that for a group – that is, it should be at least 3 times better than an individual level project).

Web Sites

You may find the following web sites of value in searching for information about social psychology, autocracy, and democracy and for information helpful in class assignments: (guide to careers in social psychology) (guide to APA style) (provides valuable information on how to apply to graduate school in psychology) (info on careers in psychology) (homepage for the American Psychological Association) (homepage for the American Psychological Society) (homepage for the Society of Personality and Social Psychology) (homepage for the Social Psychology section of the American Sociological Association) (social psychologists look at social issues) (a web site dedicated to the work of Stanley Milgram) (more information about the Stanford prison experiment) (more details on the jigsaw classroom, one of the most effective techniques for reducing prejudice) (library of on-line U.S political ads) (information on cults) (more information on cults) (Freedom of Mind Resource Center maintained by Steven Hassan, one of America’s leading cult counselor). (web site to the Gallup Poll) (list of the world’s radio stations) (list of world’s newspapers) (front page headlines of world’s newspapers) (US political ads) (USC public diplomacy center emphasizing the use of social influence in international relations) (CIA: The World Fact Book) (Almanac of policy issues providing background information, archived documents, and links on major U.S. public policy issues).

Class Attendance

I do not take roll for lecture attendance. This does not mean that lectures are optional. Much material is covered in lectures, and it will be difficult to pass the course without regular attendance. It is an 8 am class; please do not take the course if you cannot arrive to lecture on time or cannot attend lecture regularly. Class announcements are generally given at the beginning of class and are not repeated as new students arrive. If you miss class, it is the student's responsibility to cover missed materials. (It is not the instructor's responsibility to provide lecture notes, repeat lectures, etc.) Many of the lectures involve videos/DVDs. Due to copyright laws, this material cannot be placed on reserve and the only way to obtain the information in these videos/DVDs is to attend class.

How to Read a Nonfiction Book

Recently, I have had a number of students come to my office hours to tell me that my course was the first time they had to read a book for a class, and they wanted my advice on how to read a book. For students for whom this course may be their first academic experience with reading a book, I recommend the SQ3R approach:


An employer once informed me that educators do a major disservice by accepting late assignments. In her world, missing a deadline means a lost account. Therefore tardiness will not be tolerated. It is unfair to other students who emit course related behavior in timely fashion, unfair to the instructor who must rearrange work schedules, and most importantly represents a pattern of behavior that is unprofitable in the real world. Given that many of the assignments involve class projects, late work will be penalized. Late work will be graded on a curve where the lowest grade in the class (among those submitting the paper on time) becomes the highest grade possible. A written assignment is considered late if it is submitted up to 3 school days after the due date. After that, the paper will not be accepted. The poster assignment must be performed on the scheduled class date. Assignments that are not completed receive a 0 (zero), which is averaged with the student’s other grades to determine the overall grade. Required assignments are not optional.

Enrollment Policy

This course follows the enrollment policy established by the psychology department. These procedures are not negotiable and will be followed to the letter. You may not take this course using the "Credit by Petition" option.

The enrollment for this course is handled by the university computerized enrollment system.  I do not have (a) permission codes, (b) a waiting list, or (c) a way to add students.  The only way to gain admission into the course is to keep trying to enroll via the university system. (If the course is currently full, then a seat will open up only if someone drops. That seat will be assigned via the university computerized enrollment system).


Plagiarism is a very serious offense and will not be tolerated. Any paper containing plagiarized material will not be accepted for credit in this course. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another author's words or ideas without appropriately providing credit. Exact quotes from another source should be placed within quotation marks with an appropriate citation including page number. In addition, paraphrases of another author's words may also count as plagiarism; changing around the order of the words or the exact prepositions used does not change the fact that you are using another person's ideas. Submission of another paper (whether a classmates or from an on-line service) is plagiarism. Use your own words to describe the studies and findings that you want to describe in your paper. The campus policy on plagiarism can be found at:

You should consult this website before agreeing to take this course. Enrollment in this course represents acceptance of university rules and guidelines and a commitment to abide by those rules and guidelines. Any questions about this policy can be direct to the instructor.

Letters of Recommendation

After the course, students frequently ask the instructor for a letter of recommendation. Writing letters of reference is not a task that is part of the instructor’s job, and the writing of such letters is up to instructor discretion. The first step in this procedure is to make a personal assessment of the quality of letter the instructor can write for you. To do this, make a list of the qualifications needed for the position, for each qualification state the typical level of accomplishment of the successful applicant, and then list the interactions you had with the instructor that would serve to document each qualification. The next step is to ask the instructor if he is willing to write such a letter for you. (You should feel free to show your personal assessment to the instructor). Do not send unsolicited materials to the instructor. They will be returned. Also, please do not use the instructor as a "reference" (with potential employers, landlords, banks, credit cards companies, etc.) without the approval of the instructor. Given the nature of the course, the instructor typically cannot learn the information about you that is required for letters for Education Abroad Program (EAP) and thus cannot write such letters.

Important Notice

Please review the Course Calendar below before agreeing to take this course. All activities are planned; some important activities are performed in groups. Late work will be penalized. Missed work will receive a no-pass.

A Note on the Readings

The course calendar lists the date when each reading should be done. However, you may wish to do as much of the readings (as possible) at the beginning of the course. The required readings are well written, engaging, and on interesting topics. By doing the readings as early as possible, you provide a foundation for conducting your conflict resolution analysis and for developing your poster ideas.


April 1: Introduction to the Social Psychology of Autocracy and Democracy
TU Assignment: Download all the pdf articles (see last page of syllabus); Read ahead in Zimbardo
Homework #1 (Conflict in Utopia) distributed

April 3: 1939
TH Assignment: Zimbardo Ch 1; #1: Lewin, Lippitt, & White (1939)

April 8: Why Utopias Fail
TU Assignment: Begin Zimbardo Chs 2-11; #2: The Other American Dream by Tamara Jones; #3: Twin Oaks Community webpage; #4: Walden II Wiki; # 5 Allard.
Homework #1 (Conflict in Utopia) due

April 10: A Prison at Stanford
TH Assignment: Complete Zimbardo Chs 2-11

April 15: Obedience to Authority
TU Assignment: Milgram Chs 1-9
Homework #2 (Obedience in a classroom) distributed

April 17: Yertle and His Dominion
TH Assignment: Milgram Chs. 10-15 plus Appendices
Preliminary Poster Idea and Group Due (This statement should include a list of group members, the topic of the poster in general terms, and a statement of at least 2 hours per week when the group can meet).

April 22: Social Conformity
TU Assignment: Zimbardo Ch 12; Asch
Homework #2 (Obedience in a classroom) due
Homework #3 (Social pressure) distributed

April 24: Horton Hears a Who
TH Assignment: Zimbardo pp. 457-488; #6 Nemeth

April 29: Granfalloons and Jigsaws
TU Assignment: #7: Aronson & Bridgeman; Read ahead in Tavris & Aronson

May 1: The Rationalization Trap
TH Assignment: Tavris & Aronson Chs 1, 3, 5-8
Homework #3 (Social pressure) due
Homework #4 (reducing a rationalization trap) distributed
Poster Group Work Plan Due (This statement of intent and poster plan should include your topic, the names of the group members, and a detailed description of tasks to be performed along with who will done each task and when).

May 6: Propaganda and Persuasion in Autocracies and Democracies
TU Assignment: #8: Diamond (2008)
Homework #4 (reducing a rationalization trap) due

May 8: Participatory Democracy
TH Assignment: No reading assignment (read ahead for Homework #4)
Homework #5 (power and corruption) distributed

May 13: Corruption in a Small Town
TU Assignment: #9: The Long War Against Corruption; #10: The Myth of the Authoritarian Model

May 15: Power and Corruption
TH Assignment: No reading assignment
Homework #5 (power and corruption) due
Homework # 6 (conflict resolution) distributed

May 20: Getting to Yes
TU Assignment: Getting to Yes

May 22: No class; work on poster assignments
TH Assignment: Getting to Yes

May 27: The Role of the Military in and for Democracies
TU Assignment: 11. White, R. K. (1995). When Does Intervention Make Sense?

May 29: John 3:16
TH Assignment: Zimbardo pp. 458-451

June 3: Decision Making in a Democracy
TU Assignment: Zimbardo pp. 451-456; Tavris and Aronson Ch. 4; 12. White, Ralph K. (2004). Misperception and war.
Homework # 6 (conflict resolution) due

June 5: Poster Session
TH Assignment: None

Note: Zimbardo Chs 12-14 are not formally assigned. However, these chapters provide an example of how to conduct a social influence analysis.

Articles for the Course

Note: unless URL is given, article is available through university library’s on-line journals.

1. Lewin, K.; Lippitt, R.; White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created "social climates." Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-299

2. The Other American Dream By Tamara Jones

3. Twin Oaks Intentional Community webpage

4. Walden II Wiki

5. Allard, W. (2006, June). Solace at Surprise Creek. National Geographic, 20, 120-147.

6. Nemeth, Charlan J. (1986). Differential contributions of majority and minority influence. Psychological Review, 93(1), 23-32.

7. Aronson, E., & Bridgeman, D. (1979). Jigsaw groups and the desegregated classroom: In pursuit of common goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5(4), 438-446.

8. Diamond, L. (2008, Mar./Apr.). The Democratic Rollback. Foreign Affairs, 87, 36-48.

9. Ben W. Heineman Jr. and Fritz Heimann. (2006, May/June). The Long War Against Corruption. Foreign Affairs p115. 

10. McFaul, M., & Stoner-Weiss. (2008, January/February). The myth of the authoritarian model. Foreign Affairs, pp. 68-84.

11. White, R. K. (1995). When Does Intervention Make Sense? Peace and Conflict, 1.

12. White, Ralph K. (2004). Misperception and war. Peace and Conflict, 10(4), 2004, pp. 399-409


Summer 1939


The Stanford Prison Experiment

Obedience to Authority

Yertle the Turtle

Social Conformity

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