GOV 370L • Political Psychology
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
Course number may be repeated for credit when topics vary.
This course employs psychological theories to investigate how we think and act politically. We will consider influences indigenous to individuals, notably their personality. We will look at how we process information cognitively, which often entails simplifying the world around us even when simplification produces misunderstandings or distortions. We will move "outside" ourselves to consider how the environment around us, and particularly the other people, influences our attitudes and behavior. The "environment" subsumes such things as learning processes (e.g. how we learn from our parents or the media), as well as pressures to conform or obey, which arise through our interactions with others. We will investigate how our loyalties to various groups also guide our thoughts and actions. Throughout the course, the emphasis will be on applications of these psychological theories that have political relevance. Thus, when we discuss stereotypes, we will pay particular attention to racial sterotypes. When we discuss social learning and the media, we will pay attention to political messages in the media. Given that political psychology is often concerned with explaining the origins of "bad things" -- racism, Nazism, genocide -- much of what we study will be uncomfortable relevant today. One overarching goal of this course is to provide you with the tools to assess your own political behavior, that of your family and friends, and that which you observe in the world at large. You will be better able to pinpoint why a particular attitude arises or a particular action is taken. One caveat is necessary: there is no one theory that can explain why we think and act as we do. But ideally, by learning about various theories, you will be able to see how they all have relevance and to identify circumstances when they each appear most relevant. Day to day, the course will include both discussion and lecture. It goes without saying that doing the assigned reading is vital to both participating in discussion and to understanding lectures. Though the course plan below does not assign dates to particular sections or readings -- mostly to allow some flexibility in how slowly or quickly we cover certain topics -- I will continually advise you as to what you should read and when you should read it. If you are ever unsure, please ask.
There are two textbooks required for this course: Aronson, Elliot. 1999. The Social Animal (8th edition). New York: Worth Publishers. Milgram, Stanley. 1974. Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper & Row. Course Packet