From Social to Political Psychology:
The Societal Approach
University of Geneva
The boundaries between social psychology and political psychology are hard to trace in a sharp way. Indeed, a large amount of research in social psychology has been devoted to issues such as racism (Katz & Hass, Kinder & Sears, 1981; 1988; Pettigrew et al., 1998), prejudice (Allport, 1954; Biernat, Vescio, Theno, & Crandall, 1996; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1986), gender (Hoffmann & Hurst, 1990; Lorenzi-Cioldi, 1998), social justice (Bierhoff, Cohen & Greenberg, 1986; Deutsch, 1985), and nationalism (Billig, 1995; Bar-Tal, 1997). All these issues have an important political component. They are present on political agendas and are subject of political debates and decisions.
Even if the relationship between political science and psychology has been termed “a long affair” by McGuire (1993), scholars in social psychology recognize the political dimension of their research topics only to varying degrees. For some, general cognitive processes are at work when people judge, think, and decide about political issues. Typically, they study the way people reason about political phenomena, examine their individual decision-taking strategies, or establish personality- and knowledge-based typologies that explain different political orientations and positionings. Here, the political dimension is largely irrelevant to the extent that general models of information processing and decision making are applied to political issues. Other social psychologists, however, claim that the analysis of individual