How Propaganda Works: Nationalism, Revenge and Empathy in Serbia

Journal of Cognition and Culture 20 (5):403-431 (2020)


What is the relationship between war propaganda and nationalism, and what are the effects of each on support for, or participation in, violent acts? This is an important question for international criminal law and ongoing speech crime trials, where prosecutors and judges continue to assert that there is a clear causal link between war propaganda, nationalism, and mass violence. Although most legal judgments hinge on the criminal intent of propagandists, the question of whether and to what extent propaganda and nationalism interact to cause support for violence or participation remains unanswered. Our goal here is to contribute to research on propaganda and nationalism by bridging international criminal law and the behavioral and brain sciences. We develop an experiment conducted with Serbian participants that examines the effects of propaganda as identified in the latest international speech crime trial as causing mass violence, and thereby test hypotheses of expert witness Anthony Oberschall’s theory of mass manipulation. Using principal components analysis and Bayesian regression, we examine the effects of propaganda exposure and prior levels of nationalism as well as other demographics on support for violence, ingroup empathy, and outgroup empathy. Results show that while exposure to war propaganda does not increase justifications of violence, specific types of war propaganda increase ingroup empathy and decrease outgroup empathy. Further, although nationalism by itself is not significant for justifying violence, the interaction of increased nationalism and exposure to violent media is significant for altering group empathies. The implications of these findings are discussed with respect to international criminal law and the cognitive science of nationalism.

Download options


    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,879

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library


Added to PP

11 (#859,949)

6 months
1 (#386,001)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

R. A. E. Wilson
University of Kent at Canterbury

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Propaganda About Propaganda.Jason Brennan - 2017 - Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society 29 (1):34-48.
Propaganda and Art: A Philosophical Analysis.Sheryl Tuttle Ross - 1999 - Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
Semantics and Ethics of Propaganda.Jay Black - 2001 - Journal of Mass Media Ethics 16 (2-3):121-137.
Propaganda, Non-Rational Means, and Civic Rhetoric.Ishani Maitra - 2016 - Theoria. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science 31 (3):313-327.
Is Sport Nationalism Justifiable?José Luis Pérez Triviño - 2012 - Las Torres de Lucca: Revista Internacional de Filosofía Política:121-146.
Toward a Liberal Socialist Cosmopolitan Nationalism.Kai Nielsen - 2003 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 11 (4):437 – 463.
Subliminal Techniques as Propaganda Tools: Review and Critique.Robert Bornstein - 1989 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 10 (3):231-262.
Sraces of Propaganda as Structural and Functional Dimensions of its Deployment in Domestic Politics and in the International Arena.Oleksandr Vysotskyi & Dmytro Pavlov - 2020 - Філософія Та Політологія В Контексті Сучасної Культури 12 (1):114-122.
Propaganda and the Moving Image.Sheryl Tuttle Ross - 2019 - In Noël Carroll, Laura T. Di Summa & Shawn Loht (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of the Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures. Springer. pp. 757-780.
Precis of How Propaganda Works.Jason Stanley - 2016 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 31 (3):287-294.