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Political Psychology in International Relations



This seminar introduces students to a selection of political psychological theories that can be applied to the analysis of international relations and foreign policy. The field of international relations relies heavily on structural theories, in which the role and behavior of individuals are generally considered to be a constant factor. The field of political psychology has an actor-centric perspective that offers a different perspective on the study of international relations and foreign policy.

This course offers a selection of political psychological approaches that can be used to study international relations and foreign policy, such as the studying of microfoundations of structural IR theories, and the behavioral traits, belief systems, and personality of political leaders. Moreover, students will be introduced to methods to conduct political psychological research, including a core instrument of political psychology: experiments. Please note, therefore, that in order to follow this course it is of importance not to shy away from using quantitative data analysis.

Course Objectives

Objective 1: Students will learn to think and write about:

  • The role of actors within international relations and foreign policy

  • Political psychological approaches to study leaders

  • Microfoundations of structural IR theories

  • The use of experimental methodology

Objective 2: Students will acquire the following skills:

  • Appraise the strengths and limitations of political psychological approaches to IR and foreign policy.

  • Based on evidence and theories discussed in class, present and evaluate different scenarios on how actor-centric approaches relate to the study of IR and foreign policy

  • Create a research design with a political psychological approach

  • Conduct a modest political psychological research and report about it.


Your final grade will be partly based on your participation. Although class attendance is not mandatory, if you are not present during class it is impossible to participate. Effectively, this means that for every time you are not present, you will receive a 0 (zero) for participation for that session.

Mode of Instruction

Group discussions, student presentations, and papers.

Reading List

Books and articles

Assessment Method

Papers, presentations, participation and final paper.


See 'Practical Information'. This seminar is offered for both IP and IRO students and will take place in LEIDEN.