The Utility of Political Psychology
What makes political psychology distinctive and valuable? First, it is broadly interdisciplinary. Although its core lies in the application of psychological theories and concepts to political issues, its scope extends well beyond the intersection of psychology and political science. Political psychology incorporates approaches and applications in sociology, education, criminology, history, women's studies, communication, and anthropology. This range is expanded further when research links different areas of psychology—for example, personality theory and social psychology.
Second, many critical problems in politics require explanations based on psychological insights. Their utility is not only theoretical, in that explanations based on political psychology can be more convincing than narrower models, but also practical because political psychology lends itself not just to explanation but to prescription. Thus, policy makers and scholars benefit.
One major intellectual contribution of political psychology is explaining how preferences or interests are formed, how they are ranked, the intensity with which they are held, and how they are implemented. Furthermore, political psychology deals with these questions at both individual and group levels.
Rational choice theory assumes that behavior is directed toward maximizing a utility or value. However, defining that utility lies beyond the scope of the theory, however sophisticated the subsequent modelling of behavior may be. Political psychology, in contrast, disaggregates the decision. The