Cognition, Social Identity, Emotions,
and Attitudes in Political Psychology
This chapter explores how individuals make sense of others and themselves in the context of political issues, choices, and conflict. How do people understand the political world? How do they interpret information and make decisions? How organized are their thoughts? How do emotions affect thoughts and actions in politics? This chapter reflects the thinking and feeling portions of the Political Being's mind: cognition, emotion, social identity, and attitudes and beliefs. We examine a number of ideas about how people process political information, the psychological techniques and mechanisms used to understand others and the environment in which they live, the importance of the groups to which people belong, and how people regard those groups they do not belong to. In addition, we explore the importance of emotion in politics, as well as in political attitudes. A number of concepts are introduced, including cognition, cognitive categories and schemas, social identity, images, affect and emotion, and attitudes. These concepts are tied to different kinds of political behavior in this chapter and are detailed in the chapters that follow. Once again, the depiction of the Political Being in this chapter highlights the concepts that are covered here, and does so in a way that layers them. Attitudes and cognitive processes are at the top of consciousness: These are things we are well aware of, and they are important in information processing and everyday decision making. Values and social identities are deeper. We have to think harder to figure out how they affect our behavior. Emotions saturate the mind and influence the entire process of deciding how to act politically. In addition, more detail is provided on the us and them portions of the Political Being's environment.
We proceed with building blocks. First, we examine the thinking part of the Political Being. We begin with the topic of information processing and the limits people have in their abilities to process information. In doing so, we introduce two theoretical areas that provide insights into the patterns and causes of patterns in human information processing: attribution theory and consistency theories. Next, we turn to the question of how people make sense of the world they live in, through a process called cognitive categorization. In examining cognitive categorization, we discuss how people organize and simplify the complex social and political world in which they live, and we introduce the related notion of a stereotype. Next, we proceed to social identity theory, which provides us with information concerning how people see the groups that they belong to and those that they do not belong to—in-groups and out-groups. After that, we introduce a model of categories of other political actors—the political equivalent of out-groups—called image theory.
From here, we turn to the emotional part of the Political Being and look at emotions in politics. This is a relatively new area of political psychological research, but it is very important, because of the power of emotions in politically motivated violence and other patterns of behavior. After discussing emotions, we discuss attitudes, which combine emotion and thinking about politics. Our goal for this chapter is to introduce a wide range of central political psychological concepts regarding thinking and feeling about politics and the behavioral