Political Learning and Political
Psychology: A Question of Norms
JANICE GROSS STEIN
University of Toronto
Learning from political experience is widely regarded as an important driver of change and as a source of progress in international politics (Haas, 1990, 1997; Levy, 1994). One of the principal contributions of political psychology to the analysis of international politics has been its discovery of the systematic biases toward the status quo in patterns of thinking. Without learning, embedded patterns of political thought and behavior are likely to persist as long as environments remain relatively constant. If political psychologists are not fully satisfied with the status quo, analysis of political learning should be a central focus of analysis.
Surprisingly, it has not been. It is deeply puzzling that political psychology, as a field of inquiry, has paid relatively little attention to learning. Although learning traditionally has been a central concern in educational and developmental psychology, very few political psychologists have made a direct contribution to the analysis of “political learning. ” That they have not done so speaks to some of the ways in which the field of political psychology has yet to mature and some of the challenges it has yet to meet.
To illustrate these challenges, I contrast the important contribution of political psychology to the analysis of political decision making with its limited contribution to the analysis of political learning. Political psychology has challenged successfully some of the normative standards current in models of choice, but it has yet to engage with some of the normative issues that are central in psychological research on learning. I contrast these two