Political Psychology

POLT 4300/PSYC 4150 01

Professor: Dr. Linda M. Woolf

Office Hours:


  • Cottam, M. L., Dietz-Uhler, B., Mastors, E., & Preston, T. (Eds.). (2016). Introduction to political psychology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

  • Selected readings to be provided or placed on World Classrooom - each noted below.

Catalog Description

Surveys many of the important topics from the field of political psychology. Political psychology is focused mainly on the intersection between psychology -- particularly personality and social psychology -- and political behavior. The field of political psychology has been strongly influenced by political and psychological theories as well as important political events and social issues. The course examines many of the important theories that have relevance to political behavior and provides the opportunity to apply these theories to important events and issues.

Expanded Course Description:

Political behavior permeates our relationships, the academy, the workplace, our communities, and our culture. Human beings are not only social beings, we are-for better or worse-also political beings. Political psychology represents the intersection of the fields of political science and psychology. It is interdisciplinary and includes cognitive, affective, group, and socio-cultural aspects of political behavior. As a discipline, political psychology encompasses such disparate topics as voting behavior, competition, propaganda, globalization, media priming, social identity, political attitudes, racism, terrorism, war, and the personality of political leaders. The following questions all address political psychology topics:

  1. Why would someone knowingly join a hate group such as the KKK?
  2. What role does personality play in leadership?
  3. Could the war in Iraq have been avoided?
  4. Why did Hutus begin feverishly murdering their Tutsi neighbors in Rwanda?
  5. What possessed a scandal-ridden President to make the choice to have an illicit affair knowing full well that he was living under constant press scrutiny?
  6. What is the impact of prejudice on people's lives and do we all harbor a measure of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.?
  7. Why did the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 happen?
  8. Why are movements such as "Black Lives Matter," "#Me Too," or other social movements so important?
  9. Why war?

Political psychology focuses on the intersection between psychology, such as personality, organizational, and social psychology, and political behavior to address such questions. The field of political psychology has been strongly influenced by political and psychological theories as well as important political events and social issues. We will discuss many of the important theories that have relevance to political behavior and will apply these theories to important events and issues such as the current elections, war, genocide, and terrorism.

Course Objectives:

  1. Objective: To become more knowledgeable about the field of political psychology - its definition, its various domains of study, and its methodologies.

  2. Objective: To examine the impact of personality on political behavior.

  3. Objective: To become familiar with the role of social cognition, social influences, and social relations factors in political behavior.

  4. Objective: To examine the myriad of factors involved in the political psychology of groups.

  5. Objective: To become familiar with the various psychological and political impacting voting behavior.

  6. Objective: To explore the political psychology of race and ethnicity.

  7. Objective: To examine the impact of political psychology as it related to broader international concerns such as nationalism, political extremism, and war.

Course Learning Outcomes:

Students should be able to:

  1. Outcome: Describe core concepts and research methods related to political psychology.

  2. Outcome: Discuss the impact of personality, the media, term limits, social class, political presentation, political efficacy, and leadership styles on the behavior of political leaders.

  3. Outcome: Analyze the impact of the media on political behavior, including framing, priming, persuasion, propaganda, political intolerance, and effective campaigns.

  4. Outcome: Assess the role of cognition and emotion in political behavior, including political socialization, information processing and voting behavior, motivated reasoning, terror management, image making, and ideologies.

  5. Outcome: Examine the issues related to the political psychology of diversity, including stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, social inequality, ethnopolitical conflict, and the path to prejudice reduction.

  6. Outcome: Discuss the core issues related to forms of direct violence including violence between intimates and violence within and between groups (e.g., genocide, war).

  7. Outcome: Assess the role of structural violence in societies, its impact on groups such as women, children, minorities, and its relation to such topics as globalism and human rights.

  8. Outcome: Discuss the impact of political psychology as it related to broader international concerns such as nationalism, militarism, political extremism, and terrorism

  9. Outcome: Compare and contrast the psychological aspects of peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding.

Incoming Competencies/Prerequisites:

Advanced student standing or a interest is the world as political. All students should be capable of integrating and evaluating information, critical thinking, and writing at the upper college level.

Class Meetings:

The class will meet on MWF from 12:00 - 12:50. Classroom attendance as expected and we will all be more effective at learning if we work together as we explore these topics. Engaged class discussion will greatly enhance your understanding of the material presented in this class. Also, material will be presented that is not in any of the readings.

Course Requirements:

Five exams, a class presentation, three short reaction/analysis papers, and class participation/discussion.

Percent of Grade:

Examinations 65%
Class presentation10%
Reaction/Analysis Papers15%
Class Participation/Discussion 10%

Examinations: The five exams are designed to test for basic understanding of core concepts and ideas. They will cover material presented in class, readings, and discussion. Exams will be worth 60% final grade. Students must complete all five exams but only the four highest grades will be recorded. All exams will be place on Canvas and are open-book, open note with significant time available for exploration and communication of ideas and material.

Class Presentation: Each student alone or with a partner will be assigned a particular chapter from which to base their presentation. You can select to present on anything within that chapter. In other words, you are not presenting on the entire chapter but rather just a topic (of your choice) from within that chapter. You are to present the topic and expand on the ideas with research/information you find to share with the class. I always look forward to these presentations, as you can focus on something of interest to you and we all usually learn a lot. Each presentation should be approximately 15 minutes minimum (double time for partners), which includes time for discussion. Your presentation will be worth 10% of your final grade.

Reaction/Analysis Papers: Three short reaction/analysis papers will be required for the class. You must respond to at least three of the options below (more may be presented during the class in response to world events) with a short paper (3-4 pages; 12 point font) that answers the question asked and relating the question to material you have learned related to political psychology. You must include relevant research; personal opinion alone will not result in a passing grade. The goal is to demonstrate that you understand the material from class and can apply that learning to each assignment. If you respond to more than three of the options, only the three highest grades will be recorded. Note the deadlines for each assignment. Possible options include:

  1. Enemy image analysis: Review at least six images/descriptions found online in relation to at least two different groups. Analyze these images as discussed in class and your book. Feel free to use other research (e.g., from the journals/databases) related to images of the enemy/mirror imaging for your analysis. Due: September 25
  2. Examine the leadership style of Joe Biden or Donald Trump based on the principles outlined in your textbook. Provide examples to support your analysis based on reports from the research literature, magazines, and/or newspapers. Due: October 9
  3. Write an social media blog (approximately 1000 words) addressing the use of racism, sexism, ageism, or other bias in the current election. Be sure to provide references and support for your arguments. Due: October 16
  4. Select an issue from the current election and discuss media framing and agenda setting. Do an analysis of reports on the exact same issue as presented on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and one additional news outlet. Due: October 30
  5. Examine a hate group within the United States based on the principles outlined in your book and lecture. Be specific and support your answer with references from the news and research literature. Due: November 20
  6. Examine a social movement within the United States based on the principles outlined in your book a the lecture. Be specific and support your answer with references from the news and research literature. Due: November 27
  7. Examine a current genocide based on the principles outlined in your book and lecture. Be specific and support your answer with references from the news and research literature. Due: December 11
  8. Article critique: Critique an article from the journal Political Psychology, which is available through the databases in our library. You are to read and critique a recent article. Specific instructions are located on World Classroom. Due: December 11

    Be aware that we will be discussing some of these in class, so you will have some preparation prior to writing your own response. Remember that these an not just personal opinion pieces but should reflect learning from the class and be referenced.

Policy Statements:

Use of Electronic Devices in the Classroom: It is important that we build space in class to create a respectful and inclusive environment. One way we can do that is by turning off all cell phones before entering the room. That way we can be fully present and engage with one another during the semester. If we spend our time text messaging, watching Tiktok videos, etc., we are being dismissive of those around us. The phone becomes more important than they are. So let us work to spend time learning together. Certainly, laptops/tablets may be used in class but should only be utilized for class related activities (e.g., taking notes). Please be aware that according to research published in Psychological Science has demonstrated that taking hand-written notes leads to better processing of information and higher exam scores!

Plagiarism (attempting to pass off the work of another as one's own) is not acceptable. Plagiarism includes copying all or part of another's writings (even a single sentence), inappropriate paraphrasing, using another student's paper as your own, submitting a paper for more than one class. All papers will be submitted to the university's plagiarism database for review. Plagiarism, either intentional or unintentional, will result in a grade of 0 for that assignment but also may be turned over to the appropriate university source for disciplinary action and a grade of F for the course. In addition, cheating on exams will also result in the same fate.

See the Canvas Course writing page for more information about plagiarism, including the dangers of paraphrasing too closely and inappropriate quoting.

It should be noted that, as is common in many university courses, little time will be spent lecturing on topics adequately addressed by the text. If we are to have thoughtful and productive conversations, it is helpful if everyone has read the material prior to class and prepared to ask questions, challenge ideas, and engage in active learning. While every attempt will be made to explain or expand upon particularly difficult areas, the primary purpose of classroom lecture is to enhance, rather than to duplicate, the textbook material.

Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact me or the Director of the Academic Resource Center, as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations can be implemented in a timely fashion. This is a matter of creating an equitable space for you to learn.

Rarely will I approve a late withdrawal from the class. However, if you are experiencing an emergency or serious challenges, please let me know to see what accommodations may be possible.

This syllabus is subject to change at the instructor's discretion. All changes concerning course requirements will be provided in writing. Changes concerning exam dates may be made at the instructor's discretion and communicated verbally to the class. Note that such changes are unlikely but have been know to happen due to weather or a pandemic!

It is understood that remaining in this course (not dropping or withdrawing from this course) constitutes an agreement to abide by the terms outlined in this syllabus and an acceptance of the requirements outlined in this document. Make sure you endeavor to keep up with assignments and deadlines. Only under rare emergencies will an Incomplete be issued for this class.

Course Outline

The schedule below provides a general guideline to the semester and is flexible based on any need for additional discussion of a particular topic.

Week Ending



August27 Introduction to class
Introduction to Political Psychology
Chapter 1

September3Introduction to Political Psychology continued
Personality and Politics
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
September 10Personality and Politics continued
Exam I: Complete by Tuesday September 13
Chapter 2
September 17Cognition, Social Identity, Emotions, and Attitudes in Political Psychology Chapter 3
September 24

The Political Psychology of Groups

Chapter 4
October 1The Study of Political Leaders
Exam II: Complete by Tuesday October 4
Chapter 5
October 8The Political Psychology of Mass Politics: Voting Chapter 6
October 15The Political Psychology of the Media Chapter 7
Fall Break
October 29The Political Psychology of the Media

Exam III: Complete by Tuesday November 1)

Chapter 7
November5The Political Psychology of Race and Ethnicity Chapter 8
Opotow article
Woolf & Hulsizer hate groups article
November 12Race and Ethnicity continued
The Political Psychology of Social Movements
Chapter 8
Opotow article
Woolf & Hulsizer hate groups article
Chapter 11
November 19The Political Psychology of Social Movements continued

Exam IV: Complete by Tuesday November 22

Chapter 11
November 24From Ethnic Conflict and GenocideChapter 9
Woolf & Hulsizer genocide article
Chapter 10 (optional)
December3The Political Psychology of Terrorism Chapter 12
Moghaddam article
Woolf Hulsizer terrorism article
December 10Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation Chapter 14
Staub article
December 15Exam V
Online: Complete by Thursday December 15