When considering the effects of propaganda, one must first use an appropriate definition of the term. The word originates from the Latin word propagare, or "propagate." When considering the effects of propaganda a definition from Richard Nelson's "A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States" is appropriate: "Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes [through one-way, mass and direct communication]."
As propaganda usually appeals to emotions over intellect (recall Nelson's considering of propaganda as a one-sided communication), its effects first take hold at a visceral level. Propaganda may appeal to any number of emotions including anger, hope, joy, sorrow, pain, anxiety, happiness and humility. There are any number of methods in which propaganda will seek to appeal to these emotions.
Methods of Propaganda
There are many techniques for moving propaganda. Endlessly repeating, associating ideas with specific emotions, presenting two ideas against each other such as black and white, presenting a single idea with instructions for action, forging documents, isolating individuals from alternative views or recalling maxims can all be used to support or discredit an idea. These efforts amount to an attempt to create a desired effect. These intended effects usually amount to a cultivated action on behalf of the propaganda's target audience.
The intended effects of propaganda are primarily to convince. The idea here is that by convincing an individual of some idea, the individual will act in accordance with this idea. For example, the depiction of a strong, healthy cartoon character eating vegetables will hopefully first convince an individual that vegetables are the cause of the character's strength and health and then move the individual to the action of eating vegetables. Another intended effect of propaganda is that individuals will further the propaganda themselves, either as examples (others see this individual eating vegetables) or dissemination by communication (telling others that vegetables make them healthy and strong).
Propaganda also may have the effect of polarizing an audience. For example, if a piece of propaganda depicts a situation too simply, an individual may seek to point out this oversimplification and may move actively against the propaganda's intended effects. Propaganda, because of its one-sidedness and tendency toward emotional appeals, can be confronted through exposure of alternative ideas or depictions, exposure of truth or facts if the propaganda puts forth lies, the presence of more propaganda or avoidance. Therefore, the effects of propaganda, along with action in accordance with its message, may be action against it or no action at all.
Alden Renault began writing professionally in 2007. He was the editor-in-chief for "The Wake Magazine," an independent magazine covering arts, news and science around the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minn. He holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of Minnesota.