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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The psychology of democratic deliberation : from practice to system Moscrop, David


Accounts of democratic deliberation assume and require citizens who are capable of rational and autonomous cognition. Such individuals are expected to be able to gather, process, and communicate information in such a way that allows them to accurately account for their preferences, including providing reasons for those preferences. The epistemic defense of deliberative democracy suggests that this is possible and that citizens who deliberate can generate good judgments and decisions. In this dissertation, I bring findings from social and political psychology to bear on the question of whether citizens can make good judgments and decisions through democratic deliberation. Data collected over the last five decades casts some doubts over whether they can. However, as I argue, there is good reason to believe that deliberation, despite these challenges, is often superior to alternative approaches to decision making and that, moreover, there are individual practice and institutional design responses that can mitigate the deleterious effects of phenomena that bring about cognitive distortion, bias, and error when citizens deliberate. In the first section of this dissertation, I argue that the epistemic defense of deliberation—including the need for rational, autonomous citizens—is challenged by findings from social and political psychology, but that democratic deliberation remains a possible and superior form of public judgment and decision making. In the second section, I use institutional theory, deliberative systems literature, and findings from psychology to discuss ways of thinking about autonomy and deliberation, and I develop approaches to limiting or overcoming the challenges mentioned in section one. These approaches are rooted in both broader institutional design and deliberative system design and in specific deliberative practices.

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