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New master’s program trains students to understand motivations in politics


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ASU’s new online master’s degree in political psychology will be accepting students for the fall 2020 semester.

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April 01, 2020

Succeeding in politics or organizing a campaign requires a specific skill set. The political world is now an interdisciplinary battlefield of persuasion, psychology, leadership and emotions.

The Arizona State University Department of Psychology and School of Politics and Global Studies have joined forces to better equip students for the modern political environment. ASU’s new online master’s degree in political psychology will be accepting students for the fall 2020 semester.

Political psychology focuses on decision-making and the psychological factors behind politics, such as group dynamics, conflict, leadership and understanding beliefs and motivation. Graduates from this program will have a better understanding of research methodology and how media works in shaping opinions and ultimately securing votes.

The program will be led by world-class experts in political psychology:

ASU’s Mark Ramirez, an associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, will serve as the program director for the degree. Ramirez studies the role of democratic and non-democratic processes on political preference formation and how these processes impact racial and ethnic minorities. He has been involved with the Political Psychology Institute and is the current organizer of the school’s research working group in political psychology.

Steven Neuberg, a Foundation Professor of Psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology, will lead the psychology curriculum. Neuberg is an expert on stereotyping, group conflicts, prejudice, prosocial behavior and perception.

Fabian Neuner, who joined the School of Politics and Global Studies as an assistant professor last fall, also assisted with the development of the coursework. He is currently slated to teach at least two courses in the program: biopolitics, and the role of cognition and emotion in politics. Neuner’s research examines dynamics in political psychology, including biased information processing, framing and emotions.

The degree was first spearheaded by School of Politics and Global Studies Director and Professor Cameron Thies, the president of the International Studies Association, who has expertise in political psychology and foreign policy, and continues to consult on the curriculum. 

Question: How is this program different than a traditional degree in political science?

Neuner: In most political science degrees, students might take one or two courses dedicated to political psychology or political behavior, whereas here, that is the focus. Rather than focusing on institutions and political systems, this program is geared toward understanding the intersection of politics and psychology, including what motivates politicians and citizens, and how they make political decisions.

Ramirez: Because it’s a joint program between psychology and political science, it places a strong emphasis on understanding what motivates the people within a political system rather than how people interact with political institutions.  

Q: What career opportunities are available for graduates of this program?

Neuner: Graduates of this program will have gained new knowledge and skills that equip them for careers in politics, campaigning, public relations, lobbying, journalism or government. Further, students will develop research skills that will enhance their career prospects more broadly.

Ramirez: There is a strong demand for graduates in fields directly related to the program, such as political marketing and campaign strategy, but the skills developed in this program are also highly desirable for a wide-range of consulting and marketing jobs outside of the world of politics. 

Q: What was the motivation behind the creation of the political psychology master’s program?

Neuner: Political psychology is an exciting and growing field that is truly interdisciplinary. Its topics are central to everyday politics and political campaigns, yet there were no programs dedicated to its study. The online nature of the program makes it ideal for people already working in campaigns or public relations who are interested in how insights from psychology can help explain the political world. This created a unique opportunity for an online degree program.

Ramirez: To meet the growing demand by employers who needed graduates who understand how citizens think and behave in a political setting. 

Neuberg: So many pressing challenges require effective political action, and it is our hope that providing practitioners with the conceptual frameworks and findings from the integrated science of political psychology will provide tools to increase the collaboration and political leadership needed to address these challenges. 

Q: What will students learn in this program?

Neuner: Students will learn about the psychological factors that underpin attitudes, political persuasion and political behavior — from understanding how leaders use information in their decision-making during crises to how voters’ partisanship changes the way they interpret the world.

Ramirez: Students will gain insight into what motivates people and leaders in their political behavior. 

Neuberg: Students will not only acquire evidence-based insights from the academic study of political psychology, but will be challenged to consider how they might use these insights in real-world political and governance contexts to achieve their goals.

For more information, visit the degree page.

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