Analysis of Nazi Propaganda: A Behavioral Study

For my Holocaust in History, Literature, and Film class taught by Professor Kevin Madigan, I decided to write my final paper on the behavioral analysis of Nazi propaganda.

Nazi Propaganda

As someone who is deeply interested in Behavioral Economics on a professional level, Nazi propaganda is a dark and fascinating topic. To understand the origins of Nazi propaganda, it is important to know Germany after World War I, hit by economic recession and paying for reparations from war.

Given the political and economic climate in Germany at the time, combined with the humiliation and unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles, the nation state was ripe for deception. Given this, Nazi propaganda machine focused on hyperboles of a few favorite themes that they knew would win them favors:

  • Humiliation of Germany and the unfairness of the Versailles Treaty
  • The weakness of Weimar parliamentary republic
  • The evil of world Jewry, Bolshevism, and Capitalism, contrasted against the patriotic Nazi German

And while these were the dominant themes, the propaganda itself evolved to have a 3-fold focus:

  • Deification of Hitler (e.g. as a messianic figure to be followed)
  • Defining the enemy and justifying their treatment (e.g. Jews and Bolsheviks)
  • Rallying the masses (e.g. for war and eugenics)

So, I focused my paper on studying the these themes through a behavioral lens to understand and identify key cognitive and psychological drivers that went into creating them, and the role that they played in instigating social and other cognitive biases in the German population. And while there are several types of cognitive biases, I focused on 3 major categories of biases:

  • Social & Attributional Biases: These are biases that affect our social perception and the means through which we determine who or what was responsible for a particular action or situation.
  • Memory Biases: These are biases that can either enhance or impair the recollection of a memory, either near-term or long-term.
  • Decision-Making Biases: These are biases that impair our ability to make rational decisions despite evidence to the contrary. This includes biases in probability and belief that impact decision-making.

Given this, I came up with the key set of biases that they Nazis chose to trigger in the population, and came up with a framework to identify such propaganda should the public encounter it.

You can find a copy of the paper here: Analysis of Nazi Propaganda: A Behavioral Study.

5 Comments »

  1. Steven

    April 26, 2011 @ 2:00 am

    1

    Congrats on the paper, as you said a dark topic but well worth reading

  2. Militaria

    June 9, 2011 @ 11:00 am

    2

    Hi,
    I deal with Third Reich militaria and i studied the nazi propaganda.
    Your approach is correct.
    Another characteristic is the nazis present themself as victims.
    E.g they didn’t want the war, the polish began, the same for the soviet, etc etc.

  3. Marc Chehab

    August 24, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    3

    The paper is nice. The even more interesting bit about the Nazi regime, I find, is the regime’s internal power struggles and Germany’s political economy.

  4. Justin

    July 30, 2012 @ 1:46 am

    4

    Awesome paper. It’s extremely interesting and seems fairly accurate. I find it odd however, that you’ve denoted an absence of the use of memory biases from employment in Nazi propaganda. From my understanding, all of these propaganda use the picture-superiority effect, and many use the levelling and sharpening, generation, spacing, and cryptomnesia effects. I must note that the only introduction I have to biases, aside from looking up memory biases, is from the short introduction to them in your paper.

  5. jsdka

    June 19, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

    5

    A well substantiated and multifariously depicted postulation. However, I would like to perpetuate that despite the condescending chauvinism said to be epitomized in Nazis fascist socialist propaganda, it constantly reverberates the idiocy of previous leaders rather than cryptomnesia. Adolf Hitler would dictate the plebeian ideology of Jewish and those opposing the Aryan race through a ‘herd instinct’ in socialist propaganda.This was a main psychological force which promised a ‘fatherland.’ This is from the 1929 preaching against ‘Jewish’ communism which subsequently created a sardonic and obstreperous society for those who repudiated it -they were heretics. This allowed for the modulation in the imperialism of germany and there modulation in their progressivism

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