Prospective Thesis Topic: The psychology of political violence

Research on political violence emphasizes the role of popular support for violence. A key question is thus "who (and why) support/oppose the use of violence in politics?" Answering this question requires a micro-level approach focused on individuals. It also involves the consideration of psychological processes (such as perception and judgement) and variables (e.g., social status). We thus welcome applications from MA students who would like to write interdisciplinary theses on the psychology of political violence. 

The individual-level variables that potentially relate to political violence can be grouped into two broad categories:

  • Dispositional characteristics, which range from basic demographics, such as age and gender, to complex preferences, such as left- or right-wing ideologies;
  • Situational characteristics, which range from basic variables, such as people's socioeconomic status, to complex phenomena, such as experience of violent political repression.

The role of these variables (even the basic ones, such as socioeconomic status) in political violence is not well understood. Hence, conducting research within this area holds potential to produce innovative theses.  

Examples of more specific research questions include:

  • Do men (or poor/young/unemployed/etc.), compared to women (or wealthy/old/employed/etc.), are more supportive of political violence? If yes, why?
  • What contextual variables (democracy level/economic development/conflict history/etc.) account for such differences in support for violence across different countries or sub-national regions?
  • How do people form assessments of strength of conflict actors (e.g., the strength of government forces vis-à-vis protesters or rebels)?
  • How such formidability assessments influence support for/opposition to political violence?
  • Has human evolution left a mark on our psychology that still shapes our perceptions of and attitudes toward political violence?

Given the research subject, the theses would likely involve a synthesis of literatures from several disciplines, for example, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology. Empirically, the students could use publicly available multinational survey data, for example, Afrobarometers, which contain many questions about the variables exemplified above. The students could also design random-assignment experiments, embedded (for example) in survey questionnaires. These questionnaires could be administered to fellow students or widely used (low-cost) crowdsourcing platforms (e.g., Amazon's Mechanical Turk, MTurk).

The theses would be thematically related to the project Adapted to War (AWAR). Here is a brief description of AWAR. In this podcast, you can hear more about AWAR and the broader research agenda on the psychology of political violence. Students from different academic backgrounds are welcome to apply (although, the project's main expertise is within political science, psychology, and—to a lesser extent—behavioral economics and anthropology).

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