Introduction to Political Psychology

By Martha Cottam; Beth Dietz-Uhler et al. | Go to book overview

An Introduction
to Political Psychology

Why do people behave the way they do in politics? What causes conflicts such as those in Bosnia, Rwanda, or Northern Ireland? Is racism inevitable? Why do presidents make the decisions they do? Why did 9/11 happen? These and many other questions about politics are of great concern to all of us, whether we are directly affected or are only eyewitnesses through the news. So much political behavior seems to defy explanation and seems incomprehensible, even through hindsight: People start wars that are, in the end, thought of as pointless and futile, such as World War I or the war in Vietnam; civil wars erupt among people who have lived together harmoniously for years, but who then commit hideous acts of barbaric violence against one another, as in the former Yugoslavia, Liberia, or Sierra Leone; groups commit acts of terrorism that kill numerous innocent civilians each year; or a scandal-plagued president cannot resist tempting fate by engaging in an extramarital affair, when he knows full well the extent of the scrutiny by those looking for more scandals. Unless one understands the thoughts and feelings of the people who made the decisions to commit those acts, one cannot fully understand why such things occurred. But an exploration of the psychology—the personalities, thought processes, emotions, and motivations—of people involved in political activity provides a unique and necessary basis for understanding that activity.

This is a book about the psychology of political behavior. In the chapters that follow, we explore many psychological patterns that influence how individuals act in politics. At the outset, we challenge the traditional notion that people in politics act in a rational pursuit of selfinterest. This argument concerning rationality is based on a set of assumptions common in political science, but which ignores the many studies done by psychologists. Many people assume that psychology is common sense, because they believe that behavior is rational and predictable. But decades of research by psychologists reveal that behavior is anything but common sense. Although psychologists recognize that much of human behavior is not always rational, human beings, as social perceivers, often operate on the belief that behavior (their own and others) is quite rational. The motivation to expect behavior to be rational is based on two fundamental needs: first, people have a need to make sense of—to understand— their world; second, people have a need to predict the likely consequences of their own and others' behavior. To the extent that behavior is perceived as rational, these two needs become easier to fulfill.

A more accurate picture of human beings as political actors is one that acknowledges that people are motivated to act in accordance with their own personality characteristics, values, beliefs, and attachments to groups. People are imperfect information processors, struggling mightily to understand the complex world in which they live. People employ logical, but often faulty, perceptions of others when deciding how to act, and they often are unaware of the causes of their own behavior. People often do things that are seemingly contrary to their own interests, values, and beliefs. Nevertheless, by understanding the complexities of political psychology, we can explain behavior that often seems irrational. A few illustrations help us bring this point home. These are examples of behavior that is not at all atypical.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Introduction to Political Psychology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Dedication *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xiii
  • Chapter 1 - An Introduction to Political Psychology 1
  • Chapter 2 - Personality and Politics 13
  • Endnotes *
  • Chapter 3 - Cognition, Social Identity, Emotions, and Attitudes in Political Psychology 37
  • Chapter 4 - The Political Psychology of Groups 63
  • Chapter 5 - The Study of Political Leaders 97
  • Endnotes 123
  • Chapter 6 - Voting, Role of the Media, and Tolerance 125
  • Endnote *
  • Chapter 7 - The Political Psychology of Race and Ethnicity 153
  • Endnotes *
  • Chapter 8 - The Political Psychology of Nationalism 191
  • Endnote *
  • Chapter 9 - The Political Psychology of Political Extremists 223
  • Endnote *
  • Chapter 10 - The Political Psychology of International Security and Conflits 257
  • Endnote 276
  • Glossary 277
  • References 287
  • Auther Index 333
  • Subject Index 337


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen
/ 343

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.