Testing the efficacy of self-determination theory as a counter-propaganda interdiction tool
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] This dissertation experimentally tests a new theoretical approach to resistance to persuasion in the context of extremist recruitment propaganda. This study leveraged the self-determination theory (SDT) of human motivation, adapting it for usage in a strategic communication context. It was proposed that a new type of counterpropaganda could be employed to interdict the effects of propaganda at the psychological level. The SDT mechanism involved was to bolster a person's sense of autonomy, which would thereby trigger resistance to controlling propaganda messages. A mixed design repeated measures experiment was conducted on (N = 387) Caucasian participants from a Mechanical Turk online panel. The experiment divided participants into three conditions: Psychological reactance support message, autonomy support message and a control condition. Each participant saw and assessed the same two extremist propaganda posters on the dependent variables: state psychological reactance, state autonomy, state competence and message credibility. The results revealed that the autonomy support message was particularly effective at reducing propaganda message credibility and increase perceptions of state autonomy. Also, of considerable significance were that the positive effects of the autonomy support message were sustained over time through the administration of both propaganda posters. This paper yields an import theoretical development for SDT as an expansion into human communication and persuasion theory. It also yields practical benefits by providing some initial evidence into a potential valuable counterpropaganda tool that can be employed as strategic communication on a mass level.
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