Postgraduate Module Descriptor

POLM147: Political Psychology and Rational Choice Approaches to International Relations

This module descriptor refers to the 2017/8 academic year.


NQF Level7
Credits30 ECTS Value15
Term(s) and duration

This module will run during term 1 (11 weeks)

Academic staff

Dr Catarina Thomson (Convenor)





Available via distance learning


In this module you will learn two different approaches to understanding international relations and foreign policy. They are often introduced as opposing worldviews, but here we will learn novel ways in which they can complement each other. Initial lectures will be centred around key psychological factors that are at the basis of concepts in international relations and foreign policy decision-making. Subsequent lectures will focus on rational choice theory. We will learn the basics of expected utility calculations and their role in understanding how behaviour that seems unreasonable is actually the effect of rational decision-making processes carried out by actors in the international arena.

This module will help you understand psychological approaches to foreign policy, as well as rational choice theory. We will learn the role they play in international relations and foreign policy theories, and how they can contribute to explain otherwise ‘unexplainable’ international behaviour. Both approaches will be used to analyse contemporary international conflicts and as well as some central themes of international relations theory today. Aspects of this course are quantitatively orientated (you will learn to calculate expected utilities as well as other basic elements of game theory). There are no quantitative prerequisites (the instructor will give all relevant training to perform well in the course, but you should be prepared to engage with quantitative work). 

Module created


Last revised