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STAT6020 Political Psychology (10 sp)

This course addresses the ways that our psychology influences and impacts our politics. The course explores how political psychology helps us understand peoples' politics, how the media and politicians appeal to us as citizens and voters, and further examines how our psychological shortcomings might be overcome.

Dette emnet undervises på engelsk og beskrives derfor på engelsk.

About this subject:

This course will explore the role of psychology in politics. The course aims to provide a broad ranging introduction to the field of political psychology. We examine the importance of personality and genetics, evolution and political behaviour, the psychology of group decision-making and theories of cognition (‘hot’ and ‘cold’).

At the level of the individual, students learn about information processing, motivated reasoning, dissonance, biases, framing and stereotypes. We consider the relevance of recent findings in the field of neuroscience, including how brain structure and ideological preferences correlate, and ask how psychology can aid our understanding of prejudice and in/out group thinking.

Key questions will structure each of the topics, for example, in explaining voter behaviour, we ask what leads individuals to make decisions and form attitudes. Just how rational are voters? In studying ideology, we ask why people identify with political parties, vote in particular ways, and differ on a political spectrum. In the context of thinking about polarisation, we explore whether conservatives differ psychologically from liberals.

In the second half of the course, we turn to how political psychology aids our understanding of the role of mass media and politicians, as we explore whether decision-makers appeal to the electorate in a ‘rational’ way or in ways that are less obvious; for example by stoking a sense of fear, or by appeal to evolved ‘tribal’ instincts.

The aim throughout will be to show how political psychology sheds light on important and relevant contemporary challenges concerning the health of contemporary democracies. To show how political psychology can help reduce clashes, recognising that though at root we may be ‘tribal’, and our moral psychology essentially emotional (as opposed to strictly rational beings), we have also evolved mechanisms for cooperation.

The candidate shall be able to…


  • Have comprehensive knowledge about the field of political psychology, its origins, chief theories, its definitions, and various domains of study
  • Have knowledge about how psychological and political factors interrelate
  • Have knowledge concerning the impact of personality on political behavior, and familiarity with basic approaches that draw on evolutionary psychology and the relevance of underlying somatic influences (genetics)
  • Have knowledge about how mass media, ideology, cognitive styles and other social influences are theorized in political psychology and their relevance for political behavior
  • Have knowledge of the political psychology of group behavior


  • Can apply relevant theoretical concepts from political psychology when analyzing political decision making and voting behaviors
  • Can describe and explain political behavior using relevant concepts such as hot and cold cognition, rationality, misperception, emotions, and prejudiced attitudes.
  • Can identify the mechanisms of persuasion in democracies, including issues related to obedience, charismatic leadership, ideology, negativity biases, fear and ignorance and appeals to tribal partisanship
  • Have basic skills in summarizing, evaluating and reviewing academic articles


  • Can apply the insights of political psychology to make sense of contemporary debates concerning the challenges to 21st century democracy
  • Can participate in discussions on the underlying sources and solutions to the challenges of polarization, extremism, community harmony, prejudice, morality and well-being


The requirement must be passed in order to register for the exams.

  • Short essay review of allocated academic article; memo 800 words (pass/fail).


  • Take home exam (individual essay); 3000 words (+/- 10 % excluding front page and reference list) (100 % of the grade, grading system A – F).