Volume 16 · Number 3 · Pages 327–338
Materialism and Selection Bias: Political Psychology from a Radical Constructivist Perspective

Björn Goldstein

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Abstract

Context: Political psychology rests on the assumption of the existence of a world outside and independent of consciousness. This ontological materialism is hardly spoken of within the field, as it is an unchallenged assumption among most psychologists and social scientists, including political scientists. However, the materialist paradigm frames research designs, the interpretation of data and theory building. Also, there is a bias towards psychological universals - the claim that all individual and group psychologies are equal (as compared to cultural psychology, which is critical about universalist claims), which can be understood as a consequence of the discipline’s hidden ontological core assumption. Problem: The purpose of this article is to show how the choice of a certain approach to answer a research question rests on the deeply ingrained beliefs of researchers. These beliefs are usually not part of research presentations even though they have tremendous influence on the results of the whole research process. Recipients use these necessarily biased research results as building blocks for the construction of their own realities. Method: The article is an ex-post interpretative summary of my considerations during the designing period of an earlier study in which I researched, from the perspective of political psychology, on what grounds South Indian politicians have positive, negative and ambiguous attitudes towards the “West.” Using this research project as an example, this article is a critical discussion and analysis of the ideological backdrop of political psychology, in particular the belief in a materialist ontology. Results: I argue that, instead of coming closer to any kind of an “objective” understanding of political attitudes, in political psychology we cannot help but invent new stories about the (political) world as long as our beliefs consciously or unconsciously influence our decision making in theorizing and research practice. Implications: The discussion shows exemplarily how in political psychology a researcher’s basic assumption that a physical world outside of consciousness exists determines methodology and justifies a particular set of interpretations. The unproblematized physicalist paradigm makes a researcher in political psychology necessarily a biased researcher. Constructivist content: The article is a description of how a researcher’s subjective perception and construction of the (social) world has consequences for the complete research process. Political psychology is based on the highly problematic assumption of an ontic world that exists independently of a subjective observer. It can serve as a telling example of how the preoccupation with a physicalist world explanation can lead to methodological and interpretative biases.

Key words: Cultural psychology, emotional beliefs, identity, metaphysical idealism, ontological materialism, political psychology, psychological universals, research biases, social constructivism.

Citation

Goldstein B. (2021) Materialism and selection bias: Political psychology from a radical constructivist perspective. Constructivist Foundations 16(3): 327–338. https://constructivist.info/16/3/327

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