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Political Psychology

Political Psychology is a course with interdisciplinary roots that covers the psychological aspect of how humans interact politically. It’s a broad and intellectually satisfying theme of study that draws on aspects of political science, psychology, sociology and anthropology.

A course in Political Psychology typically starts with how people learn politically and develop judgment skills. After a general overview of this process, the course in Political Psychology goes into the study of topics such as leadership, voting, group behavior and groupthink, and political structures and their effect on the citizenry. Political Psychology courses can delve into the mind of a megalomaniac such as Adolf Hitler to find out what made his meteoric rise to power possible. It can also look at the psychological aspects of a movement of peaceful disobedience from a figure such as Gandhi. Political Psychology notes are filled with studies of famous leaders and the reasons for their actions.

A student of Political Psychology might ponder the possible inevitability of racism or why human disasters and conflicts occur. Why did the events in Darfur take place? Why did the events in Bosnia take place — and why did the U.S. get involved? It’s through the study of the thinking, emotion and psychology of the people involved in the events that a student can fully comprehend why they occurred. The course can also cover reasons that societies that have lived in peace for many years may break out into war with each other over seemingly simple reasons.

A typical text used in this class is “Introduction to Political Psychology” by Martha L. Cottam, et el. It gives a broad overview of the subject and includes coverage such topics as groups, leaders and the role of the media. Cottam has written several other books in related fields, such as “Foreign Policy Decision Making: The Influence of Cognition.”

Another recent textbook of note is “Political Psychology: Situations, Individuals, and Cases” by David P Houghton. Houghton’s book is a bit more of an easy read and come across less like a textbook than a long blog post. Students will most likely identify with his writing style and will find it easier to digest.

A course such as an Introduction to Political Psychology is an excellent framework with which a student can venture into other, more advanced classes in many disciplines. Those who major in political science or psychology can certainly find value in this course, but so can those who study history and the other liberal arts fields. The interdisciplinary of courses such as Political Psychology can add depth and character to a student’s academic profile and give them a glimpse into areas of study that they might not have had before.

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