The evolution of political psychology researchrevealed a change from the subjective study of political figures to the studyof how groups can affect the political sphere.
Irving Janis challenged theleading opinion that group interaction discussion leads to better decisionoutcomes. His research revealed that when a group is confronted with makingstressful decisions, group cohesion can lead to faulty decisions and outcomesdue 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 andtheir advisors where the group consensus is formed and conformed to, andalternative proposals are disparaged against (Janis 1982, pg.5). Therefore, researchin group discussions can explain how and why political leaders and theiradvisors can make less than rational or questionable decisions. The study ofgroups in political psychology includes the dynamics of group discussions andthe prejudice (which can lead to discrimination) between different groups. Groupthinkresearch also disproved the common belief that humans are “rational thinkers”who are capable of making the right decision even when the group consensus isotherwise (Martin 2018).
Milgram and Zimbardo conducted group experiments tosupport the concept of an individual’s lack of rational thought, obedience andconformity to a group consensus. In Zimbardo’s prison experiment, findingsrevealed the disturbing nature and possible negative outcomes of conformity tothe group consensus and assigned roles (Zimbardo 1973, pg.5)Milgramfocused on personal conflict between obedience to authoritative figures andmoral conscience. The findings of Milgram’s experiment can help explain the immoralactions such as the genocide committed by Nazi soldiers in World War 2 (Milgram1974, pg.2). Bothexperiments reveal that a lack of personal responsibility in a groupenvironment allows an individual to make less than rational decisions andactions. Prejudice, discrimination and even genocide are partof human history, observed in wars such as, World War 2. Political psychology aims to provide aninsight as to how individuals and groups are influenced to have prejudices or practicein discrimination.
Group theory allows us to understand the existence ofin-group cohesion and out-group aggression (Bar-Tal 1990, pg. 93), which canhelp us understand the political implications of prejudice such as, anincreased support for in-group politicians or a decreased support for policiesthat can benefit the out-group (Martin 2018). Theexperiments conducted to investigate group dynamics is more objective andscientifically valid as it uses scientific experiments and data in its researchas opposed to previous forms of psychoanalysis. However, it still remainsspeculative in nature and lacking in empirical data. Politicalpsychology is a branch of science characterised as an applied behaviouralscience. As previously mentioned humans often depart from the rational choicemodel (Martin 2018) and stray from the rational choice theory which states thatindividuals make predictable choices based on their self-interest (Chong 2013,pg.98).
Behavioural scientists aim to discover the reasoning for whyindividuals neglect rational thinking. This is done through using interdisciplinarymethodologies and research. Research can include anywhere from lab and fieldexperiments. Understanding how people make decisions is important for designingpublic policies that benefit citizens (whitehouse.
gov 2015). It is important tonote that humans are flawed individuals and systematic bias can cloud judgementas humans often rely on shortcuts to simplify decision making tasks (Kahneman2013, pg.13; Dalton & Klingemann 2007, pg.7).
Research on cognitive miserscan help complement laws and regulations as the government can use choicearchitecture and suggestionsto ‘nudge’citizens into participating in good behaviour (Thaler & Sunstein 2009, pg.9).