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What is Political Psychology?

What is Political Psychology?

February 21, 2024

Political psychology is one of those areas of psychology that, not having an object of study as well defined as other branches of it, seems to fade into the ambiguity of the social sciences. However, that does not mean that it is not relevant.

In fact, thanks to its joint work with knowledge parcels such as sociology and anthropology, it is able to better understand what is happening in an increasingly globalized world, with increasingly larger and, in short, social conflicts.

Next we will see what are the functions, characteristics and main problems of political psychology .

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Political Psychology: a definition

Political psychology is a difficult concept to define, and the diffusion of its limits and structural characteristics has meant that for years this denomination has been used to refer to different things.


However, a definition as specific as complete is that made by Luis A. Oblitas and Ángel Rodríguez Krauth (1999): political psychology is the plot of psychology that is responsible for analyze phenomena of a political nature from their psychological aspects : the perception of corruption, the political discourse of parties, social movements and pressure groups, identification with reference groups or leaders, etc.

But a simple definition is not enough to understand what are the distinguishing characteristics of this branch of psychology. First, we must take into account its relationship with historical processes and social psychology.


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The importance of historical processes

Some people have a conception of what psychology is that relates it more to biology than to the social sciences. From this point of view, this would be a science that is responsible for studying neural structures that are in the interior of our body emit behavior, in the same way in which a gland produces saliva.

While it is true that psychology is not strictly a social science in its entirety, the previous view of the profession of psychologists is erroneous. This is so because psychology is the study of behavior, and as far as human beings are concerned, human behavior never arises spontaneously inside the bodies, but it is always modulated by the historical context in which people live. The same person is very different depending on the place and the moment in which he is born. For example, what is now considered misogynistic behavior could be considered normal only a century ago.


In short, our way of being is not separated from the flow of events that happen around us, and a good part of these are of a social and political nature.

On the other hand, the actions we carry out also contribute to changing the context in which we live. As a consequence, the object of study of political psychology, and of social psychology, is constantly changing. This makes his approach to what happens can not be the same as that of the exact sciences , that analyze phenomena whose components are more or less invariable, and that must use a probabilistic approach when investigating. In turn, this fact brings political psychology closer to other disciplines that study social phenomena, such as anthropology and sociology.

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Political Psychology or politics of psychology?

We must bear in mind that people who are engaged in political psychology are very sensitive to the way in which political phenomena influence our way of thinking. Of course, studying in current Spain the processes of interaction between politically mobilized ethnic groups is not the same as doing it in Hitler's Germany. Science is also a human and social activity , and therefore is not totally isolated from these influences.

Therefore, one of the objectives of political psychology is also to analyze the way in which political processes, throughout history or in the present, contribute to certain models of human behavior gaining strength to the detriment of others, which They lose support.

In short, political psychology always tries to direct efforts to perform self-criticism about the presuppositions from which it departs, the epistemological approach that it uses when it comes to reaching conclusions, and the effects that can have at any moment put more emphasis on some topics of study than in others.

Its forms of application: examples

It may seem that political psychology is content with understanding certain social phenomena, reaching abstract conclusions and not very brave, since it works from concepts that are very difficult to study, since they are always changing and have little concrete limits (where does the humor end and the chauvinism in certain propaganda initiatives, for example?). However, this does not have to be like this.

Political psychology can be used, for example, to make predictions about future movements to be carried out by mobilized groups, or to measure the degree of racism and xenophobia that appear in certain speeches of parties and groups (the consequences of this have been clear throughout history).

At the same time, it also serves to know what are the probabilities of a regressive movement appearing in a generally progressive country, or vice versa, a progressive one anchored in religious fundamentalism and nationalist essentialisms.

In short, political psychology, while far from being infallible, serves to reach very important conclusions, since they speak to us about phenomena that have the capacity to affect thousands or millions of people.

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Bibliographic references:

  • Oblitas, L. and Rodríguez Kauth, A (1999): Political Psychology. Mexico D. F .: Plaza y Valdés.

TEDxEmory - David Wilhelm - Political Psychology (February 2024).


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