Deference, Dissent and Dispute Resolution:


Thursday, March 5, 2009 - 12:00


Elizabeth Levy Paluck
Dr. Elizabeth Levy Paluck


An Experimental Intervention using Mass Media to Change Norms and Behavior in Rwanda

Dr. Elizabeth Levy Paluck, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Princeton University and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is also an Academy Scholar at Harvard Academy for International Affairs, Harvard University.

Deference and dissent strike a delicate balance in any polity. Insufficient deference to authority may incapacitate government; too much may allow leaders to orchestrate mass violence. Although cross-national and cross-temporal variation in deference to authority and willingness to express dissent has long been studied in the social sciences, rarely have scholars studied programs designed to change these aspects of political culture.

The present study, situated in post-genocide Rwanda, reports a qualitative and quantitative assessment of one such attempt, a radio program aimed at discouraging blind obedience and reliance on direction from authorities, and at promoting independent thought and local initiative in problem solving. This radio program or a control program dealing with HIV were randomly presented over the course of one year to pairs of communities, including communities of genocide survivors, Twa people, and imprisoned génocidaires. Changes in individual attitudes, community norms, and deliberative behaviors were assessed using closed-ended interviews, focus group discussions, role-play exercises, and unobtrusive measures of collective decision-making.

Although the radio program had little effect on many kinds of beliefs and attitudes, it did have a substantial impact on listeners' willingness to express dissent and the way they resolved communal problems. Consistent with some arguments regarding the origins of political culture, these results suggest that certain aspects of political culture are changeable, at least in the short run.