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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


Page address: Syllabi/PS427SYL.html

Political Science 427/527
Political Psychology
Fall 2006
MWF 10:00-10:50
AH 223A

Instructor: Dr. Fred Slocum
Office: 204A Morris Hall
Phone: 389-6935
Web site:
Office Hours: M, W, F 1:00-3:00; T, Th 11:00-12:00 and 2:00-3:00; or by appointment


Political psychology, an exciting, interdisciplinary field of study, is concerned with how psychological processes help illuminate concepts, principles and theories social scientists use to better understand politics.  In this course, we will explore some of the major lines of political psychology theory and research, and their applications to political life.  These applications include group decision-making, such as among policymaking groups; personality characteristics of political leaders and followers; racism, stereotyping, ethnocentrism, nationalism and their political impacts; the influences of emotion and cognition on voting decisions; the origins of political extremism, violence and genocide; and relations and interactions within and between groups.

We will encounter many ideas this semester, some of them quite controversial.  Political scientists, politicians and political observers argue vociferously over these ideas.  I hope you will, too.  As this is a seminar, I expect and encourage frequent participation from members of the class.  Graduate students are expected to take an especially active role in class discussions.  I expect students to come to class every day having completed assigned readings in advance, and prepared to contribute your opinions, observations, questions and reflections on current events.  I will try to maintain an atmosphere in which students of all political persuasions will feel equally free to express their opinions during class discussions.

Course Objectives:

To the extent they do well in this course, students will gain knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • What makes psychology and political science distinctive disciplines
  • The influences of emotions and cognitions on political knowledge and judgments
  • The development of solidarity within groups and competition between groups
  • Personality traits commonly found among political leaders
  • The psychology of opinion formation, maintenance and change
  • The roles of racial prejudice and stereotyping in politics
  • The uncertain context of decisions in international politics
  • The psychological theory of 'groupthink,' and how it contributes to understanding group decision-making in international crisis situations
  • The psychological aspects of authoritarianism and obedience to authority, and their connections with support for authoritarian politics and regimes
  • The psychological underpinnings of intergroup conflict, mass violence and genocide

An additional objective of this course is to help improve certain skills that will benefit you in gaining employment or admission to graduate or professional school.  These skills include especially those of communication (oral and written) and critical thinking that are valued increasingly in the global economy.  So we will spend much class time discussing topics raised in or related to the readings.  There will be some reflection papers completed in class and some videos also.  Furthermore, there are two paper assignments, with oral presentations to the class for each (see below).

Assignments and Grading:

There will be a midterm exam (October 13) and a non-cumulative final examination (December 13).  All examinations will consist of essays and identification items.  About a week before each exam, I will pass out a study guide to help you prepare.

There are two required papers, and each student is expected to make a short oral presentation of each to the class.  The first paper is a psychobiography paper (6-7 pages, 8-9 pages for graduate students), in which students will research and write a biographical study of a major 20th century political figure, making systematic use of psychological theories (especially personality theories).  The goal is to create a coherent and illuminating story of the political figure's life and rise to and/or fall from power, with major attention on the person's psychological characteristics and how they contributed to political ambitions, decisions and actions.  The psychobiography paper is due in class Monday, October 9, with oral presentations October 9 and 11.  Leader selections are due in class Monday, September 11.  More details on this assignment will be handed out separately.

The second paper is a review of a scholarly article (assignment to be handed out separately).  The paper will be a critical review (5-7 pages; 7-8 pages for graduate students) of a political psychology article published in a professional journal.  The article selected must be relevant to one or more political psychology topics (whether or not we cover it in class).  No article can be reviewed by more than one student.  Articles published in Political Psychology (which I have many issues of) and not already selected by another student are automatically approved.  Articles published in any other journal must be approved by me.  Article selections are due in class Friday, November 3.  The article review itself is due in class Wednesday, November 29, with oral presentations November 29 and December 1.

Graduate students will also complete an annotated bibliography of articles from scholarly journals (totaling 250 pages or more) on a topic relevant to political psychology.  The topic must be cleared with the instructor.  Your bibliography topic (in writing) is due in class Friday, October 13 (at the midterm exam); however, you should discuss and clear your topic with me well before then.  The bibliography itself is due Monday, November 20.

Course grades will be determined as follows:

Undergraduate students:

  • Midterm exam: 20%
  • Psychobiography: 25%
  • Article review: 25%
  • Attendance/participation: 10%
  • Final exam: 20%

Graduate students:

  • Midterm exam: 15%
  • Psychobiography: 15%
  • Article review: 15%
  • Bibliography: 30%
  • Attendance/participation: 10%
  • Final exam: 15%

In this course, grades will not be curved, meaning that you will not be competing against your classmates for a limited number of A's, B's and so on.  Therefore, the grading scale is a straight scale, as follows:

  • A: 90%-100%
  • B: 80%-89.9%
  • C: 70%-79.9%
  • D: 60%-69.9%
  • F: 59.9% or less

Students whose point totals place them very near (within 0.1 points of) the cut point for the next higher letter grade will be evaluated on an individual basis for promotion to the higher grade.  In this evaluation, I will consider factors such as class participation, attitude and improvement over the term.

Students with Disabilities:

I would like to hear (early in the semester is much preferred) from students with a documented learning or other disability that might require some modification of seating, testing, or other class arrangements.  I will make every effort to accommodate students with these needs.  If you have any questions, please see me or contact Julie Snow in the Disability Services Office (132 Memorial Library, 389-1819).

Policy on Attendance:

I will note attendance frequently, perhaps daily.  All students should plan to attend class regularly and contribute to class discussions.  Students are responsible for obtaining notes for any missed session.  Excused absences may be considered on a case-by-case basis in exceptional cases (such as for certain medical reasons), or for significant opportunities, such as attending a professional conference.  Whenever possible, please notify me in advance of an absence, giving a valid reason.

Policy on Late Assignments:

Barring uncontrollable extenuating circumstances (which I must be notified of and approve in advance), late assignments will be downgraded one full letter grade (10 percentage points) for each calendar day late (2 letter grades or 20 points for a paper submitted the Monday following a Friday due date).  Computer-related problems (including hard drive or disk crashes) are not an acceptable reason for late papers or extensions.  Don't wait until the last minute to print your papers off!

Policy on Make-Up Examinations and Incomplete Grades:

Examinations cannot be made up unless the student provides acceptable, documented reason for missing the exam.  Makeup exam requests have merit to the extent that (1) the circumstance is unavoidable, (2) the reason for missing the exam can be documented, and (3) the instructor is notified well in advance of the exam.  Makeup exams will not necessarily be identical to, and may be more difficult than, the exam given in class.  Early exams will not be given.

The MSU Undergraduate Bulletin outlines University policy on incomplete grades as follows.  "The grade of 'incomplete' is reserved for special cases and means that, because of extenuating circumstances, the student failed to meet a specific need and an important requirement of the course, but has in other respects done passing work for the semester.  The incomplete must be made up in the next semester in which the student has enrolled, unless other arrangements have been made between the student and instructor.  If the deficiency is not made up within the specified time, the grade automatically becomes an F or NC" (pp. 31-32).  I will support and enforce this policy fully.

Academic Dishonesty:

A number of activities may be construed as academic dishonesty (cheating).  These include, but are not limited to: copying material from another source (book, manuscript or another student) without proper acknowledgment, using crib sheets during an exam, talking during an exam, or looking at another student's exam.  Any cheating will result in an automatic F in the course and the possibility of further disciplinary action.  Come see me if you have any questions.


There are three required texts for this class, available at the University Bookstore and the Maverick Bookstore.  We will read all of Cottam et al., and most, but not all, of Janis and Altemeyer.

  • Martha Cottam, Beth Dietz-Uhler, Elena Mastors and Thomas Preston, Introduction to Political Psychology.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004.
  • Bob Altemeyer, The Authoritarian Specter.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • Irving Janis, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, 2nd edition.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1982.

Course Calendar and Assignments:

I will make reasonable efforts to follow the schedule of topics below.  However, as time and circumstances dictate, the schedule may change somewhat.  Thus, dates given below should be considered approximate.  If circumstances warrant, I may amend the schedule or modify reading assignments.  I will announce any such changes in class.  Abbreviations used below are CDMP (Cottam et al.), J (Janis) and A (Altemeyer).

Part I: What Is Political Psychology?

Week 1 - August 28-September 1: Introductions; the field of political psychology; personality and politics.  CDMP, Chs. 1 and 2.

Part II: Political Psychology of Attitudes, Groups and Leaders.

(Monday, September 4: Holiday - NO CLASS)

Week 2 - September 6-8: Attitudes, emotions and cognition.  CDMP, Ch. 3.

Week 3 - September 11-15: Relations within and between groups.  CDMP, Ch. 4.  (Possible video: TBA)

(Monday, September 11: Political leader selections for psychobiography paper due)

Week 4 - September 18-22: The psychology of political leaders.  CDMP, Ch. 5.

Part III: Public Opinion, Political Action and Attitudes Toward Outgroups.

Week 5 - September 25-29: Public opinion, the media and voting; race and ethnicity in the U.S.  CDMP, Ch. 6 and pp. 153-167.

Week 6 - October 2-6: Racial and ethnic conflict; social dominance orientation (SDO); nationalism.  CDMP, pp. 167-187 and Ch. 8; possible additional reading TBA.

(Monday, October 9: Psychobiography papers due)

Week 7 - October 9-11: Student presentations.  Review, if time allows.

(Friday, October 13: Midterm exam)

Part IV: Foreign Policy Decisions, Groupthink and International Security and Conflict.

Week 8 - October 16-20: U.S. foreign policy fiascoes and non-fiascoes.  J, Chs. 1, 2, 3 and 6.

Week 9 - October 23-25: Groupthink in theory and practice.  J, Chs. 8 and 10.

(Friday, October 27: NO CLASS)

Week 10 - October 30-November 3: Preventing groupthink; international security and conflict.  J, Ch. 11; CDMP, Ch. 10.

(Friday, November 3: Article selections due)

Part V. Obedience, Authoritarianism, Extremism and Mass Violence.

Week 11 - November 6-10: Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and its origins.  A, Intro., Chs. 1 and 3.  (Video: Obedience.)

Week 12 - November 13-17: RWA, cognitive behavior and inconsistency.  A, Chs. 4 and 5.

Week 13 - November 20: RWA and religion.  A, Ch. 6.

(Monday, November 20: Graduate students - Annotated bibliography due)

(Wednesday and Friday, November 22 and 24: Holiday - NO CLASS)

Week 14 - November 27-December 1: Does LWA exist?  A, Ch. 9.  Student presentations.

(Wednesday, November 29: Article review papers due)

Week 15 - December 4-8: RWA among North American legislators; political extremism and genocide.  A, Ch. 11 and Conclusion; CDMP, Ch. 9.  (Video: The Wave)

(Wednesday, December 13, 8:00 AM: Final exam)