Psychological Perspectives on Politics

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Psychological Perspectives on Politics

Political Science #344

Illinois Wesleyan University

Greg Shaw

phone: 556-3658 – fax: 556-3719 – e-mail:


Course description and requirements:

This course introduces a variety of topics in the field of political psychology. This course draws on the insights of political scientists, social and cognitive psychologists, and behavioral economists. Topics include: the roles of emotion and reason in opinion formation, the use and misuse of heuristics, persuasion, framing effects in survey questions and political rhetoric, altruism, judgments under uncertainty and risk, jury behavior, and the formation of judgments regarding fairness and justice.

Students’ grades are based on two exams, two short papers, and class participation. Each exam is worth 25% of the course grade. The short papers are each worth 15% of the course grade. Participation in class discussions and activities comprises the remaining 20% (10% for participation in the class project described below; 10% for participation generally in class discussions). About one week before each exam I will distribute a list of questions resembling, but not identical to, the questions you will face on the up-coming exam. These questions should be taken as a rough indicator of the level of difficulty and style of the questions that will appear on the exams. Taking an exam at any time other than in class on the designated exam date requires advance approval from me. You will need to keep up on the assigned reading in order to do well in this course.

The class will conduct a telephone survey of local residents. This project will require a significant time commitment from everyone in the class. You will work with your peers to formulate questions and will spend a few evenings in the lab to conduct the interviews. To facilitate hypothesis formation and question development, the class will divide into small teams, each of which will meet on its own as well as with me outside of class time. Once these teams have developed their hypotheses, they will share them with the larger class for critique. Groups will discuss the survey’s results in class following its fielding. Your peers and I will evaluate your contributions to this project, and that evaluation will be worth 10% of your overall course grade.

Twice during the semester you will turn in a paper reflecting on a selection of readings you believe speak to an important theme that you identify. These papers should synthesize theoretical perspectives and empirical findings from various readings on the syllabus. You should use this opportunity to critique some of the literature we’ve read and to come to your own conclusions. I’m asking you to reflect on the readings rather than to search out materials beyond those listed on the syllabus. These papers should each run 6 to 7 pages (double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman, standard 1” margins). I will say more about this assignment as the semester goes along. If you are the least bit uncertain about your writing skills, visit the IWU writing center for help. Please also feel free to visit with me during office hours to discuss ideas. I am certainly willing to talk through your ideas. Due to time constraints, I cannot promise to read and comment on rough drafts.

Final course grades will be assigned on the following basis: 90-100% = A/A-; 80-89% = B+/B/B-; 70-79% = C+/C/C-; 60-69% = D; below 60% = F. Taking a grade of incomplete in this course is very strongly discouraged. Under no circumstances will a student be granted a grade of incomplete without discussing the matter with me well in advance of the end of the semester. All other university policies apply.

The following course texts are available at the university bookstore:

Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches, Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, Westview Press, 1996

The Illusion of Public Opinion: Fact and Artifact in American Public Opinion Polls, George Bishop, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005

Going Negative: How Attack Ads Shrink and Polarize the Electorate, Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar, The Free Press, 1995

Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology, Paul Sniderman, Richard Brody, and Phil Tetlock, Cambridge University Press, 1991

The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior, edited by Neuman, Marcus, Crigler, and MacKuen, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007

Excerpts from the following sources are on electronic reserve (password: persuasion). These items are underlined below:

James Barber, The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House, 4th ed., Prentice Hall, 1992

Michael Nelson, “The Psychological Presidency,” in Nelson (ed.) The Presidency and the Political System, 8th ed., Congressional Quarterly Press, 2006

Prior and Lupia, “Money, Time, and Political Knowledge” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 52 #1, January 2008. (J-STOR or paper copy on shelves)

Richard Thaler, Quasi-Rational Economics, Russell Sage Foundation, 1991

Jack Levy, “Applications of Prospect Theory in Political Science,” Synthese 135, 2003

Phil Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?, Princeton University Press, 2005

Tourangeau, Rips, and Rasinski, The Psychology of Survey Response, Cambridge University Press, 2000

“Knowledge, Trust, and International Reasoning,” Popkin and Dimock, in Elements of Reason, Cambridge University Press, 2000

Beyond Self-Interest, edited by Jane Mansbridge, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990

James Druckman, “Political Preference Formation: Competition, Deliberation, and the (Ir)relevance of Framing Effects,” American Political Science Review, vol. 98 #4 (November 2004)

Robert Cross and Susan Brodt, “How Assumptions of Consensus Undermine Decision Making,” MIT Sloan Management Review, winter 2001

Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, revised edition, Quill, 1992

George Lakoff, Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, 2004

Robert Altemeyer, “The Other Authoritarian Personality,” in Political Psychology (Jost and Sidanius, editors)

Inside the Juror: The Psychology of Juror Decision Making, edited by Hastie, Cambridge University Press, 1993


Topics & Weeks Readings


Defining the field of political psychology Petty & Cacioppo, chapts. 1&2

Is it political science, or psychology, or both? Explorations in Pol-Psych, chapt. 1

What do we know about how people think? (by Shanto Iyengar)

What don’t we know?

Citizen competence with information The Affect Effect, chapts. 3 & 10

A summary of important insights Illusion of Public Opinion, chapts. 1, 2 & 4

Some anomalies in reasoning Cross and Brodt essay (handout)

Affect versus reasoning

Problems with opinion measurement

Political knowledge Popkin & Dimock essay

What do citizens know? Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment, ch. 2

Low-information rationality

A brief introduction to heuristics

Political learning: affect and cognition The Affect Effect, chapts. 5 & 6

‘Memory-based’ versus ‘on-line processing’ Prior and Lupia, AJPS 51, #1 [J-STOR]

Going Negative, chapts. 3-5, 7

Petty & Cacioppo, chapt. 3 (optional)

Explorations in Pol-Psych, chapt. 8

(Lodge & Stroh; skim pts. 2 & 3)

Issue framing and survey question wording effects Illusion of Public Opinion, chapts. 3, 5

(skim chapt. 5) & 6

Framing effects Druckman article (APSR Nov. 2004;

Other question wording effects access via J-STOR)

Gilens, “An Anatomy of Survey Based

Experiments” in Navigating Public


Lakoff, ch. 1

Persuasion Petty & Cacioppo, chapts. 5, 6, 8, 9

Elaboration likelihood model Cialdini, chapt. 1

Tolerance of ambiguity &

openness to counter-arguments

Tuesday: I’ll distribute guidelines for developing survey questions and the peer evaluation

Thursday: brainstorming ideas for survey; form small groups to develop questions; Greg leaves class early this day – the small groups should use the rest of this session to begin developing concepts to explore in the survey

1st reflection paper due in class on Thursday

Designing surveys and survey-based experiments Illusion of Public Opinion, chapt. 9

Thursday: mid-term exam (covering all material to date)

Decisions under Uncertainty The Affect Effect, chapt. 7

Some common heuristics Quasi Rational Economics,

Mental accounting chapts. 2 & 3

Stability of preferences Jack Levy article

Prospect theory

Trade-off reasoning

Small groups will meet with Greg outside class to refine questions early in this week

Work on survey Tourangeau et al., chapters 2 & 5

Small groups will present their projects to the

larger group; each will present and justify

its hypotheses and proposed tests

Our script must be finalized by Friday of this week

Work on survey no assigned reading this week

  • Field the survey Monday thru Thursday evenings

(with some afternoon work too)

  • Tuesday: meet to discuss project

  • Thursday: no class meeting

  • Data will be e-mailed to class by about the middle of spring break week

Rationality and altruism Beyond Self-Interest, chapt.6

Disentangling altruism and instrumentalism (Dawes et al.)

The prisoner’s dilemma and other collective action problems

Make time one evening this week to view “Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment” (as a group)

Analyzing the results of the survey no assigned reading this week

  • Tuesday: Small groups present findings from their projects (PowerPoint please)

  • Thursday: no class

Authoritarianism, tolerance and Stenner, Authoritarian Dynamic, selections

conformity selected pages from chapts. 1-4

Altemeyer, “The Other Authoritarian


The Affect Effect, chapts. 8 & 9

Myer’s summary of Milgram experiments


2nd reflection paper due in class on Thursday

Jury & juror behavior Inside the Juror, chapters 2, 3, 8, 13

How useful is psychobiography? Barber, Presidential Character, chapter 1

Michael Nelson chapter (from The

Presidency and the Political


The Affect Effect, chapts. 14 & 15

Final exam: cumulative w/ emphasis on 2nd half of course

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Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconPsychological Universals: What Are They and How Can We Know?

Psychological Perspectives on Politics icon2. Psychological Indeterminism

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconAdaptationism and psychological explanation

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconPsychological Theories of Language Acquisition

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconTitle: Advances in psychological assessment

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconPsychological Theories and Literary Representations

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconRunning head: psychological mechanisms

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconSocial psychological dimensions and considerations

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconUniversity address: Psychological Services in Education

Psychological Perspectives on Politics iconIn Press, Psychological Assessment, July 17, 2012

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