What is the Relationship between Psychology and Political Science?

Psychology deals with the behaviour of man and elucidates what he actually does. It enquires into the mind of man and his behaviour, both as an individual and in groups, and explains the motives of human action.

It seeks to determine how far human conduct is rational or instinctive or traditional.

Political Science, which deals with the political relationship of human beings, cannot ignore the psychological effects.

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The State and its political institutions are the products of the human mind and can best be understood in terms of the mind. Theories about political conduct that are not grounded in an adequate psychology are apt to be defective.

This has been well shown in some of the contributions that modern social psychology has made to Political Science. Barker says, “The application of the psychological clue to the riddles of human activity has indeed become the fashion of the day. If our forefathers thought biologically, we think psychologically.”

The affinity between Political Science and Psychology has been greatly emphasised during recent times. Gabriel Tarde, Le Bon MacDougall, Graham Wallas, and Baldwin are the prominent writers who have given psychological explanations of almost all the political problems.

They ascribe the unity of the State to psychological factors and the form of government and its laws are in conformity to the temperamental habits of the people. Political traditions and institutions, they assert, are what the human mind has made them.


Bagehot, in his Physics and Politics, explains the successful working of the constitutional system of government in Great Britain in terms of the psychology and the genius of the people of that country.

Government to be stable and really popular must reflect and express the mental ideas and moral sentiments of those who are subject to its authority; in short, it must be in harmony with what Le Bon calls the mental constitution of the race.

In the democratic processes the part played by social psychology is, thus, subtle. Modem psychologists study men in groups as well as individual behaviour. The study of social psychology often has more direct relevance for the political scientist than does individual psychology.

There can be little doubt that the psychological approach to problems of Political Science is very valuable. Political Science has hitherto been much under the influence of philosophy and, consequently, oblivious of the realities of life. Thinkers assumed certain facts about human nature and dogmatically accepted them as self-evident truths.


The result was an inaccurate analysis of the political institutions and the political behaviour of man. The advocates of physiological approach, therefore, say that we need “to reinvigorate our minds from the wells of direct observation” and the study of Political Science shall be futile unless we exactly know the way in which human beings behave as individuals and members of society under different influences.

It does not, however, mean that all political problems have a psychological explanation to offer. The areas of study in Political Science differ significantly in the extent to which they have thus far been subjected to the behaviourist approach. Its penetration is uneven.

The area which has been subjected to the greatest influence is probably that of public opinion, voting and elections, political parties and pressure groups, international relations and public administration. It has also been applied to the general concepts, such as ‘power’ and ‘influence’, and of definitions of Political Science, such as that which sees it as a study of Who Gets, What, When and How!.

Foreign and comparative government probably stands in the middle while its effect is the least in public law, jurisprudence, and judicial affairs. Moreover, Psychology does not concern itself with moral values. It does not say anything about what the State and its institutions ought to be.

Furthermore, the psychologist seeks to explain life in terms of savage instinct, and social psychology leads us to explain the higher by the lower. This does not seem to be the correct evolutionary method. The right procedure is to explain the lower by the higher. “Man explains the monkey, and not monkeys the man.” It is not logical to explain civilised life by the conditions of primitive times. It is a bad argument that the thing is final, because it is primitive.

MacDougall and other psychologists explain the origin of instincts that operate in society. They do not, however, explain how and why these instincts arise in society. Finally, according to Catlin, Psychology is concerned with mental acts which must be considered in relation to the observable individual mind. But Political Science is concerned with “the impulsive or willed” relations of social beings.

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