PoliticalPsychology is an emerging field of social science that seeks to understandpolitical behaviour and outcomes through the study of human experiences, behavioursand relations. This academic interdisciplinary field uses from politicalscience, psychology; and other disciplines such as sociology and economics.
As politicalpsychology is a relatively new branch of research, its evolution has been welldocumented. Initially, political psychology was based on much speculation andtheory-driven explanations. In contrast, modern political psychology researchis more objective, scientifically rigorous and based on formal experiments. Additionally,the focus of research has changed from the behaviors of political figures into howgroups dynamics can impact political participation. Political psychology hasattempted to disprove that humans are rational thinkers through arguing that individualsare greatly influenced by group dynamics, authority and, prejudice and bias’.
Early politicalpsychology was mainly directed by the use of psychobiographies andpsychoanalysis. Psychobiography was primarily used to study political figuresto understand the motives of political actions and behaviors. Psychobiography contributedto a better understanding of behaviors, motivations and personalities (t’Hart 2010,pg.100). Early political psychology was influenced bythe work of Sigmund Freud who determined that the adult personality isdeveloped through past formative experiences; especially experiences inchildhood (Post 2013, pg.
460). Thus, his ideas of child-parent relationshipshad a significant influence on the conducting of psychobiographies (Post 2013,pg.483). Freud’s theories havebeen applied to the study of political psychology by scholars such as, Lasswell,Greenstein, Barber, Davies and Graham Little (founderof The Melbourne School) (Martin 2018).Harold Lasswell was a political scientist whowas credited as the founding father of political psychology. He applied Freud’stheory of formed personalities into the examination and desires of politicalleadership, in which he determined that a political figure seeks power in orderto overcome a low self-image developed in childhood (Post 2013, pg.465). On theother hand, Greenstein and Barber have used psychoanalysis techniques in orderto develop psychological profiles of past and present presidents of the UnitedStates (Martin 2018; Barber 1992, pg.
4). However, psychobiography was criticizedas not being able to falsify, too subjective and not based on rigorous scientificresearch (Martin 2018). In response to criticisms, political psychology evolvedfrom the subjective science of psychoanalysis to more objective andscientifically driven research where empirical data can be generated fromresearch findings.