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Politics

The study of politics draws from the knowledge and principles of political science, sociology, history, economics, neuroscience, and other related fields in order to examine and understand the political behavior that ultimately informs government policy and leadership. Exploring these relationships can help us understand how we act collectively, govern ourselves, make political decisions, resolve conflict, and use and abuse power, all of which reflect our deepest fears at least as much as our aspirations and ideals.

The personalities, ethics, behavior, motives, judgements, integrity, and management styles of political leaders must also be addressed. More than ever, social psychologists and others have a lot to say about the divisive nature of partisan politics and what can be done to allow diverse voices to be heard and reconcile the strong differences of opinion that can impede progress and pull a nation apart.

The Psychology of Politics

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Psychology pervades the political sphere, from the techniques candidates use to communicate with voters, to persuasion and negotiation in office, to protests organized by the general public.

Public opinion plays a strong and influential role in policy setting and decision-making in government. Though not always accurate, non-biased public opinion polls and surveys are one way for politicians and public officials to gauge the public’s feelings about any topic. Constituents can call or write to their elected officials at any time to have their voices heard. Special interest groups representing the opinions of large groups of people also have the ear of public officials. At the same time, political leaders often try to shape public opinion on issues and initiatives that concern them the most.

What traits do leaders tend to have?

The job of leading an organization, military unit, or nation, and doing so effectively, is immensely complex. One trait consistently associated with obtaining leadership positions and leader effectiveness is extraversion. Being bold and assertive, as well as intelligent and empathic, can also be advantageous. And leadership potential can be cultivated; research suggests that leadership may be one-third born and two-thirds made.

What creates an effective political message?

Compelling political messaging often hinges on how voters feel rather than what they think. Effective messaging relies on a few reliable principles: Politicians should aim to evoke the voter’s core values, appeal to their emotions (both positive and negative), and tell a powerful story rather than rely on facts and policy information.

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The Personality and Mental Health of Politicians

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Which personality traits propel the desire for power? How does the constitution assess mental competency? Should the public consider mental health when selecting their next leader? People have always explored these questions, but the election of President Donald Trump sparked new interest and vigorous debate.

What traits do voters seek in politicians?

Voters prefer politicians who are relatively more extraverted, assertive, open, honest, emotionally stable, and somewhat more disagreeable than the average person; these traits are also associated with political ambition, leadership, and media visibility. While ideology underlies political parties, personality underlies political candidates, and voters often choose politicians who embody their own personality traits but have stronger leadership qualities.

Do politicians tend to have dark personality traits?

People high in dark personality traits such as narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavelliansm are often drawn to positions of power. The desire for authority, attention, and wealth often proels them to attain power in brazen and ruthless ways. These traits can increase the impulse to gain power, instill a sense of superiority, and prevent them from accepting negative information about themselves or their leadership. Pathocracy is a term used to describe a government run by people with personality disorders.

Coping with Stress and Anxiety about Politics

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The intensity, division, and vitriol of politics today can evoke powerful emotions. Some may feel occasional frustration at political figures and processes, while others may struggle with stress, anxiety, or depression. The topic can also strain or even break important relationships. But certain strategies can help people communicate about political differences, draw boundaries when appropriate, manage their emotions, and boost their well-being.

How can people cope with anxiety about politics?

For many people, politics now increasingly fuels feelings of anxiety, fear, and distress. To address these emotions, people can take action politically—calling a congressional representative, going to a protest, or advocating for change—to gain a sense of control. They can reach out to loved ones and find communities that share their values and goals. Coping skills such as exercise, journaling, and recalling past experiences of resilience can also help curb political anxiety.

Can friends who disagree about politics maintain a relationship?

Political disagreements can be messy, but there are healthy ways to navigate politically divided friendships. Think about your goal for the relationship, and devote more time to discussing core values with those who you want to sustain a deep relationship with.

Instead of attempting to change the person’s mind, focus on understanding why they think the way they do. Ask open-ended questions like “tell me more” and avoid accusations and harsh tones. Allow emotions, not just facts, to be a valid part of the conversation. Even if you disagree, show that you understand. After multiple conversations, it’s ok if you decide to draw boundaries around particular topics.

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