Political Psychology: Definition and Meaning

Political psychology describes how psychological processes at the individual and social levels influence political conduct. Political psychologists often work in either psychology or political science departments, despite the fact that the topic is multidisciplinary. Researchers from each discipline take distinct approaches to the same topics, despite the fact that their fundamental goals are frequently identical, and interested academics are urged to look at the literature from both disciplines.

Focusing on individual political attitudes, emotions, beliefs, and behavior, the study often tries to explain these phenomena using psychological theory and research. While more recent work has used a number of quantitative tools, historical approaches to study in this sector frequently relied on case studies or qualitative approaches (surveys, experiments).

What is Political Psychology?

Political psychology is an interdisciplinary scientific branch of study devoted to the psychological examination of political processes. The political attitudes and behaviors of individuals inside politically structured organizations are what political psychology is most broadly concerned with. Political psychology study addresses political behavior at the individual and group levels (e.g., decision-making and collective action), as well as interactions between political elites and the broader public (e.g., leadership psychology) (e.g., public opinion). It also applies to both official and informal forms of political engagement, such as voting and community involvement.

The borders between political psychology and the several disciplines of research it draws from are unclear. Political science research traditions that focus on political behavior and decision-making, as well as sociology, education, public opinion, and communication study, are where the subject takes its theory and techniques from. These specialties include organizational psychology as well as cognitive, personality, social, and developmental psychology. As a result, it can be difficult to discern between political psychology research and those in related domains without raising questions.

Historical Background of Political Psychology

Political psychology has a long history, despite its relatively recent beginnings. While the study of the relationship between psychological processes and political organization has roots in ancient Greece, enlightenment philosophy, and nineteenth-century social and political science (with a focus on crowd psychology, for example), the field of political psychology as well as political psychology as a discipline as a whole only really begin to take off after WW II. According to McGuire (1993), there have been three stages in the brief evolution of political psychology. In the 1940s and 1950s, behavioral pathology and the impact of personality on political processes piqued the interest of academics who were influenced by Freudian and behaviorist theories.

The 1960s and 1970s had experienced a variation in scholarly interest in political views and voting behaviour. Primarily. It was due to newly available survey data and statistical techniques that incorporated, for example, the analysis of the impact of political campaigns on attitudes and voting behavior. Throughout the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the field's emphasis on political cognition and human decision-making followed the cognitive tendency seen at the time in other behavioral sciences. The citizen was demonstrated as a finite information processing system that could provide accurate conclusions by utilizing a number of cognitive heuristics. Even while the first political psychology handbook was published in the early 1970s (Knutson, 1973), it is also about this time that a number of textbooks that are expressly devoted to the subject made their debut.

Areas of Inquiry in Political Psychology

The field of political psychology is still evolving as a discipline; hence its focus is mutable. The organization of prior ISPP annual scientific conference programs and a review of papers in the subject, however, point to a core of connected themes and subspecialties.

  • Cognition, Affect, and Motivation in Politics − The majority of research in this area has typically centered on political decision-making. More recently, there has been an increase in interest in cognitive neuroscience and the role of emotion in politics.

  • Political Socialization – This area of study examines the evolution of political identity, ideologies, attitudes, and values across time.

  • Political Personality & Leadership – Political scientists refer to them as "political elites," and this branch of research focuses on them. Among the topics of interest are the examination of personality or leadership styles, features, and kinds; motivational profiles of leaders; structural and stylistic elements of cognitive factors relevant to the political conduct of specific leaders. Psychobiography and personality assessment with a psychodynamic orientation are two more.

  • Political Participation – The political action of common people, or what political scientists refer to as mass politics, is the emphasis of this field. Political attitudes, views, and ideologies are investigated together with political cynicism, activity, and alienation. It also includes the study of political communication, image-making, media and public opinion, voting behavior, and related subjects.

  • Intergroup Relations – The topics at the forefront of this discipline include social identity, prejudice and stereotyping intergroup conflict, and conflict resolution.

  • International Relations – This area, which is more closely related to political science than psychology, investigates psychological factors in the conduct of foreign policy. Covered subjects include globalization, international negotiation, and perception (and misperception) in international politics.

  • Political Stability and change – The topics covered in this large field of study include terrorism, genocide, war and peace, social movements, democracy, and civic engagement.

Political Psychology Elements

Political psychology is based on a variety of ideas, particularly those that deal with perception and intergroup relations in the political sphere. It makes use of the following disciplines to inform and forecast preferences for domestic and foreign policy−

  • Biopsychology − The study of how our brain, neurotransmitters, and genetic predispositions affect our ideas, feelings, and overall behavior is known as biopsychology.

  • Neuroscience − Neuroscience is the study of the anatomy, molecular biology, physiology, and inner workings of the nervous system.

  • Psychopathology − Studying mental diseases and the underlying workings of our behavioral patterns with a focus on how they connect to certain predispositions is known as psychopathology.

  • Evolutionary Psychology − Studying memory, perception, language, and other psychological qualities might help us understand how natural selection and adaptations have shaped human behavior throughout time.

  • Social Psychology − Examines how people's thoughts, motives, deeds, and emotions affect their daily and global social interactions (perception vs. imagined interactions).

  • Cognitive Psychology − Cognitive psychology is, in essence, the study of how humans think. It examines thinking, attention, language, learning, and problem-solving.

  • Intergroup Relations Theory − The theory of intergroup relations examines intergroup behavior and how social and group interactions affect the human psyche.

  • Developmental Psychology−Developmental psychology investigates how our general psychology and actions evolve over the course of our life.


Political psychology has evolved into a well-established interdisciplinary field with its own professional association. Political science, psychology, neurology, biology, economics, history, international relations, philosophy, sociology, and communication are a few of the disciplines that contribute to the "field" of political psychology today and having the reciprocated advantages.

Updated on: 02-May-2023


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