Department of Comparative Politics
Core Lecture

Peer effects and authoritarianism: Evidence from Norway (Sirianne Dahlum)

The recent popularity of strongman rule even in democratic societies raises questions about the origins of authoritarian attitudes among ordinary citizens.

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Scholarly research often points to childhood socialization as the roots of authoritarianism. In this view, authoritarianism is a deeply held attitude that is difficult to change. Here, we propose an alternative perspective. As a hyper-social species, human beings are malleable to social influence and individuals often adapt the views of those around them. As most other attitudes, we argue that to a substantial degree authoritarian attitudes can be understood as social attitudes. As a social norm, they reflect a person's perception of what is adequate in a given social setting. Therefore, how authoritarian a person describes herself depends on how authoritarian that person perceives her peers.

We test this proposition in a pre-registered field experiment in the Norwegian Armed Forces as well as a survey experiment among a representative sample of 2000 Norwegian citizens. In identifying the causal effect of peers on authoritarian attitudes, the field experimental setting allows us to rule out self-selection into social circles as a confounder that often plagues the study of social influence. Specifically, we randomly assign soldiers to different dorm rooms for the period of eight weeks during bootcamp. As a consequence, some soldiers are randomly assigned to peers with high or low levels of authoritarian attitudes which we measured before and after bootcamp. We find that random assignment to room mates with higher levels of authoritarian orientations make soldiers more authoritarian. The effect size is eight percent of a standard deviation which corresponds to 76 percent of the gender difference of authoritarianism in our sample. We also find evidence from our representative survey that Norwegian citizens update their authoritarian preferences when faced with new information about the authoritarian tendencies of other citizens.


The programme for the core lecture series for the Spring 2023 is:

  • 16 February: "Peer effects and authoritarianism: Evidence from Norway" - Sirianne Dahlum
  • 16 March: "Nonviolent repression in electoral autocracies" - Katerina Terytchnaya
  • 30 March: "Political Culture, Right Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation, and Trump Voters" - Brendon Swedlow
  • 1 June: "Need Not Apply: The Relationship Between the Ideology of Candidates for State Supreme Courts and the Contribution Preferences of Male and Female Donors" - Eric N Waltenburg

All seminars are held on Thursdays 14.00-15.30 in the Sampol Meeting room (2nd Floor), and are open to all. 

If you wish to receive invitations to the CORE Lecture Series, you can send a request to Alexander.Verdoes@uib.no