Module and Programme Catalogue

Search site

Find information on

This module is inactive in the selected year. The information shown below is for the academic year that the module was last running in, prior to the year selected.

2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PIED3603 Political Psychology: on Authority and Obedience

20 creditsClass Size: 36

Module manager: Dr Kris Dunn

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Since World War II, social science has attempted to explain why individuals submit to authority regardless of the atrocities such may instigate. Throughout history, such obedience is repeatedly connected to countless horrific and genocidal acts. In this class, authority and obedience will be examined from fictional, theoretical and empirical perspectives. Students will discuss the general implications, both positive and negative, of authority and obedience and what these implications mean for modern society. An example of readings related to this module are: 1984 by George Orwell, The Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm, Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo, The Authoritarian Specter by Robert Altemeyer, and The Authoritarian Dynamic by Karen Stenner.


Upon completion of the module, students will be able to:
1 Participate in informed discussion regarding the psychology of obedience, the circumstances that can lead average individuals to perform horrific acts and what can be done to minimize the occurrence of such.
2 Critically evaluate both empirical and theoretical material
3 Understand numerous research methods used in social science
4 Formulate rational arguments, evaluate empirical data, and communicate effectively

Learning outcomes
Students will learn the various research paradigms that have been used to investigate obedience. In addition to a brief look at literature on the topic, students will synthesize research using the psychoanalytic, psychological, social psychological and sociological perspectives. They will familiarize themselves with past and present research into why ‘normal’ people can commit such horrific acts and how we can possibly prevent such acts from occurring in the future.

Skills outcomes
In this module students will:
- develop an understanding of how psychology and sociology can inform research in politics and help us to understand real-world political events.
- be exposed to a variety of social-scientific methods used in analyzing human attitudes and behaviour, from psychoanalysis to linear regression.
- look into how and why human beings commit the atrocious acts they sometimes do.


1 The Consequences of Obedience
2 Obedience in Fiction: Dystopian Literature
3 The Societal Perspective: Mass Society and Mass Psychology
4 The Psychoanalytic Perspective: The Historical Context
5 The Psychoanalytic Perspective: The Authoritarian
6 The Behavioural Perspective: The Authoritarian Follower
7 The Behavioural Perspective: The Dominators
8 The Situational Perspective: Submission and Circumstance
9 The Situational Perspective: Modernization and Authority
- The Interactive Perspective: The Authoritarian Dynamic

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours40.00
Private study hours140.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students will prepare for class discussion by completing any and all assigned readings and by writing a brief analytical review of those readings that includes an application of the knowledge gained to any relevant real-world event. For this latter application of knowledge, students will need to expose themselves to recent or current events via the various forms of widely-available news media. Students will prepare for their final research paper by independently developing and researching an essay question of their own devising. This final paper will require students to gather and synthesize extra-module material of both an academic and non-academic nature that will enhance the student’s knowledge of the module subject and facilitate their ability to satisfactorily answer their proposed essay question.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students are required to turn in a brief analysis of their reading for each class period and to participate in class discussion. For the final paper, students are required to submit a proposal and have the opportunity to submit a draft for me to look at if they are so inclined.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
EssayBrief Critical Analysis 8 x 1 page (weekly)50.00
Essay1 x 3000 End of Term Essay50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

8 x 1 pages Brief Critical Analysis (only the highest 6 marks will count toward the final grade)

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/04/2019


Browse Other Catalogues

Errors, omissions, failed links etc should be notified to the Catalogue Team.PROD

© Copyright Leeds 2019