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Course Description

The concept of "attitude" has been called the single most important concept in social psychology, i.e., "the keystone upon which the edifice of social psychology is built."  Public opinion is an extremely important concept in political theory and is discussed in a variety of political science courses.  An examination of the definitions for the concepts of "attitude" and "opinion" finds that they are generally overlapping and difficult to distinguish, but research integrating the two concepts in largely lacking.  This course will examine research on social and political attitudes, public opinion, and the mass media with the aim of integrating theory and research from the areas of social psychology and political science.

Course Objectives

  • Attending class is very important.  Material on the exams will be drawn from lectures as well as readings, so you should not expect to do at all well in this course if you do not attend most classes.  I will be taking attendance.
  • Exams‑‑there will be a midterm exam, given on Thursday March 29.  The final exam will be given during Finals Week will have the same format and will cover material from throughout the course.  A copy of one of my previous semester's final exams (not the actual exam) is appended to this syllabus.
  • UC Davis Paper - Due on Thursday February 6, a one-page reaction to the ideas on the UC Davis website on making collaborative groups a success, describing their three best ideas.
  • Group Project—Students will be divided into groups the second week of class, and they will meet several times with their groups and together write a paper (described below).  This paper is due Tuesday March 13. These groups will continue to meet for discussion throughout the semester.
    On the final exam at the end of the semester, each student will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on how credit for the group’s work should be allocated (e.g., “Fred should get less credit than everyone else; he didn’t contribute much to the group paper”; or “Everyone should get full credit”).  Interaction in groups must be respectful.  If you are unable to work collaboratively, you should not take this course. 
  • Paper‑‑there will be a 10-page paper due on Tuesday May 8.  This paper should deal with some aspect of attitudes, public opinion, or the relationship of the mass media to political attitudes or behavior.  A one-page description of your proposed topic is due Tuesday April 10.  Students not having their topics approved risk a very low grade.  No late papers will be accepted.  Please photocopy all papers you turn in.
  • Reading Questions (RQ’s)—For each set of readings there are Reading Questions.  If in class discussion indicates that students are doing the readings, I will not require that these be passed in.  However, I may at some point begin requiring them to be turned in if class discussion becomes a problem.  Questions on exams are often drawn from the Reading Questions.


PSYCH 100 or 101; PSYCH 230.

Required Textbook

Milburn, M. A. & Conrad, S.D. (1996). The Politics of Denial.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Other Reading

Additionally, there are xeroxed readings available online at the UMB library webpage. 
The password for this course is survey.
These readings include a number of articles and sections from:

  • Milburn, M. A.  Persuasion and Politics: The Social Psychology of Public Opinion, Monterey: Brooks/Cole, 1991.  [Denoted as Milburn (P& P)]

  • Bennett, W.L.  News: The Politics of Illusion, (3rd ed).  New York: Longman, 1996.

E-Reserve Readings

Reading Questions 1-13

  • Bennett (#1) Bennett, W. L. (1980). "Clarifying the concept of public opinion" pp. 12-23 in Public Opinion in American Politics, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

  • Bennett (#2) Bennett, W. L. (1980). "The state of consciousness fallacy and democratic theory" pp. 26-38 in Public Opinion in American Politics, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

  • Bowen, G. G.  (1989).  Presidential action and public opinion about U.S. Nicaraguan policy: Limits to the "Rally 'round the flag' syndrome.  PS: Political Science and Politics, 22, 793-800.

  • Holloway, H., & George, J. (1986). "Social Class: Why the Socialists have Failed in the United States," in Coalitions, Elites, and Masses, (2nd ed.), New York: St. Martins.

  • Merelman, R. M., (1969). "The development of political ideology: A framework for the analysis of political socialization," American Political Science Review, 63, 750-767.

  • Bennett (#3) Bennett, W. L. Chapters 2 and 3 from News: The Politics of Illusion.

  • Edelman, M. (1971). "Information and cognition," from M. Edelman, Politics as Symbolic Action: Mass Arousal and Quiescence, pp. 329-335.

  • Miller, A. "Adolf Hitler's childhood: From hidden to manifest horror," pp. 142-197, in For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelties in Childrearing and the Roots of Violence, pp. 142-197.

  • Milburn, M. A., Conrad, S. D., Sala, F., & Carberry, S. (1995). "Childhood Punishment, Denial, and Political Attitudes," Political Psychology.

  • Bennett (#3) (1980).   "The state-of-consciousness fallacy in opinion research" pp. 38-48 in Public Opinion in American Politics, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

  • Tetlock, P. E. (1984). "Cognitive style and political belief systems in the British House of Commons," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 365-375.

  • Cheng, P. W., & Holyoak, K. J. (1985).  Pragmatic reasoning schemas.  Cognitive Psychology, 17, 391-399 (excerpt).

  • Milburn, M. A. (1987). "Ideological self-schemata and schematically induced attitude consistency," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 23, 383-398.

  • Henry, W. A. (1981). "News as entertainment: The search for dramatic unity," in Elie Abel (Ed.), What's News: The Media in American Society. San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies.

  • Milburn, M. A., & McGrail, A. (1992). "Dramatic Television News and Cognitive Complexity," Political Psychology, 13, 613-632.

  • Parenti, M. (1986). "The Big Sell," Inventing Reality.  New York: St. Martins.


Group Project
10-page paper 

UC Davis paper
Class Participation