Cults of personality, preference falsification, and the dictator’s dilemma

Journal Article (Journal Article)

We offer a novel rational explanation for cults of personality. Participation in a cult of personality is psychologically costly whenever it involves preference falsification, with the costs varying across individuals. We highlight two characteristics associated with lower individual costs of preference falsification: (i) loyalty to the regime and (ii) unscrupulousness. Different characteristics might serve the regime better in different roles. Using a simple formal screening model, we demonstrate that one’s participation in a cult of personality improves the dictator’s personnel decisions under a wide variety of circumstances. Decisions are most improved when subordinates’ characteristics that better enable cult participation are correspondingly valued by dictators. Dictators who can manipulate the costs that cult participants pay find it easiest to ensure that correspondence. Our model also highlights the importance to dictators of not believing their own propaganda, and their need to offer increasingly extreme acts of cult participation as old acts become normalized.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Crabtree, C; Kern, HL; Siegel, DA

Published Date

  • July 1, 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 32 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 409 - 434

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1460-3667

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0951-6298

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0951629820927790

Citation Source

  • Scopus