The evolution of political psychology research
revealed a change from the subjective study of political figures to the study
of how groups can affect the political sphere. Irving Janis challenged the
leading opinion that group interaction discussion leads to better decision
outcomes. His research revealed that when a group is confronted with making
stressful decisions, group cohesion can lead to faulty decisions and outcomes
due to the 8 main symptoms named the “group think syndromes” (t’Hart 2010,
pg.110). This can result in bad policy decisions made by political figures and
their advisors where the group consensus is formed and conformed to, and
alternative proposals are disparaged against (Janis 1982, pg.5). Therefore, research
in group discussions can explain how and why political leaders and their
advisors can make less than rational or questionable decisions. The study of
groups in political psychology includes the dynamics of group discussions and
the prejudice (which can lead to discrimination) between different groups. Groupthink
research also disproved the common belief that humans are “rational thinkers”
who are capable of making the right decision even when the group consensus is
otherwise (Martin 2018).

 

Milgram and Zimbardo conducted group experiments to
support the concept of an individual’s lack of rational thought, obedience and
conformity to a group consensus. In Zimbardo’s prison experiment, findings
revealed the disturbing nature and possible negative outcomes of conformity to
the group consensus and assigned roles (Zimbardo 1973, pg.5)

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Milgram
focused on personal conflict between obedience to authoritative figures and
moral conscience. The findings of Milgram’s experiment can help explain the immoral
actions such as the genocide committed by Nazi soldiers in World War 2 (Milgram
1974, pg.2). Both
experiments reveal that a lack of personal responsibility in a group
environment allows an individual to make less than rational decisions and
actions.

 

Prejudice, discrimination and even genocide are part
of human history, observed in wars such as, World War 2.  Political psychology aims to provide an
insight as to how individuals and groups are influenced to have prejudices or practice
in discrimination. Group theory allows us to understand the existence of
in-group cohesion and out-group aggression (Bar-Tal 1990, pg. 93), which can
help us understand the political implications of prejudice such as, an
increased support for in-group politicians or a decreased support for policies
that can benefit the out-group (Martin 2018). The
experiments conducted to investigate group dynamics is more objective and
scientifically valid as it uses scientific experiments and data in its research
as opposed to previous forms of psychoanalysis. However, it still remains
speculative in nature and lacking in empirical data.

 

 

Political
psychology is a branch of science characterised as an applied behavioural
science. As previously mentioned humans often depart from the rational choice
model (Martin 2018) and stray from the rational choice theory which states that
individuals make predictable choices based on their self-interest (Chong 2013,
pg.98). Behavioural scientists aim to discover the reasoning for why
individuals neglect rational thinking. This is done through using interdisciplinary
methodologies and research. Research can include anywhere from lab and field
experiments. Understanding how people make decisions is important for designing
public policies that benefit citizens (whitehouse.gov 2015). It is important to
note that humans are flawed individuals and systematic bias can cloud judgement
as humans often rely on shortcuts to simplify decision making tasks (Kahneman
2013, pg.13; Dalton & Klingemann 2007, pg.7). Research on cognitive misers
can help complement laws and regulations as the government can use choice
architecture and suggestions

to ‘nudge’
citizens into participating in good behaviour (Thaler & Sunstein 2009, pg.9).