Your Most Important Role in a Democracy: Thinking for Yourself


Program Description:

Would you like to persuade someone to do something for you like attend a meeting, or purchase a product? Decades of research from the social sciences can provide you with hints about how to it. Need to give a speech that will come across as “charismatic?” We’ve got research telling you how to do that too. Need to know how to stop yourself from becoming a victim of manipulation or social influence tactics? Social science research can show you that this is a lot harder to do -- it takes education. Democracies stand for an ideal political system run “by the people, for the people.” Democracy is rooted in the idea that power should be vested in the people, in part, because people are smart and the majority opinion is usually the best decision. In fact, social science supports the idea that majorities make better decisions than those made by individuals. In his book “The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki cogently explains how the votes of independently thinking individuals actually do produce excellent decisions – in fact, almost always better decisions than any one individual, alone, could produce. However, the ideal democratic system is easily perverted by influence tactics that manipulate and alter the thinking of voters. Our “independent thinking” is manipulated by the campaign tactics we see in advertisements, the “talking points” of candidates, and the opinions of those we trust. Fifty years of social science research tells us that people are highly susceptible to influence tactics. This research also tells us that in circumstances where individuals are not thinking for themselves, groups of individuals do NOT make the best choices and decisions. What are the typical ways we are manipulated by political campaigns? What can we do to combat this manipulation – especially in an age where we are too busy to study and understand all the issues by ourselves?


Vanessa Druskat

Vanessa Druskat is an associate professor of organizational behavior and management in the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. She specializes in work team effectiveness, team leader effectiveness, the influence of emotional competence on team effectiveness and on leader effectiveness, and effective leadership in public school systems.

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