The Constitution Unit


The Social Psychology of Political Elites



This project formed one strand of Meg Russell's 3-year ESRC-funded Fellowship.

This is the most exploratory, and the most innovative, element of the Fellowship. It sought to build interdisciplinary links to see whether new and more accurate theories can be developed to explain the behaviour of political elites, and parliamentarians in particular. At present "behaviouralism" in legislative studies, and in political science more broadly, is heavily influenced by "rational choice". But rational choice models often bear little resemblance to the understanding of the world held by those who have been close to the policy process, and their predictive powers can be weak. Meanwhile, since behavioralism developed in the mid-20th century, social psychologists have built and refined their own explanations of human behaviour. Their findings demonstrate that human beings do not always act "rationally", and indeed when in social situations may behave more as group members than as individuals. As politics is innately a collective pursuit, and generally structured through groups, these results could bring important insights into the study of political institutions.

The project sought to develop new theoretical approaches, by drawing from the literature on social/political psychology and related disciplines. It also sought to build links with academics working in these disciplines with a view to future publications and joint research.

Any academics working in related fields who are interested in this work, and in building research collaborations, are invited to contact the researchers (see below).