Psychological health of politicians should be regularly screened, says Salford academic

Monday 12 December 2011
Dr Ashley Weinberg
A psychologist from the University of Salford has argued that the psychological health and wellbeing of politicians should be regularly screened to ensure they are in the best position to make decisions in the national interest.

Dr Ashley Weinberg’s recommendation is made in The Psychology of Politicians – a book of firsthand research by psychologists which explores what lies beneath the surface of national politicians from the UK, Italy, Poland and Ukraine.

The book tracks politicians from the initial stages of candidate selection to their development as leaders and how they function in the job. Sources of pressure inside and outside work are evaluated, alongside the personality traits and values of politicians and those of the people who vote for them.

Dr Weinberg said: “Politicians are no different to other occupational groups when it comes to coping with psychological strain, but it is of wider concern to the electorate that the psychological toll of the job may affect a politician’s decision making capabilities.

“Despite the litany of poor decisions made by politicians who have become ill after taking office, there has been an unwillingness to recognise what might be considered the sum of all fears: one or more leaders bent on a dubious political goal from which their psychological health or inability to cope prevents them from deviating.

“Regular and reliable health screening of politicians could help to flag up serious misgivings, from unreasonable demands on elected representatives to the inappropriate behaviour of a leader, and act as a precaution against political abuse.”

Psychology has a vital role to play not only in the scrutiny of the well-being of all occupations, including politicians, but also in the processes of recruiting, training and supporting elected representatives who are suited to the job.

Dr Weinberg concludes: “Politicians are important in our lives, whether we like them as individuals or not, so it is incumbent on all of us to play our part in choosing and supporting those suited for purpose. It is time for political psychology to step up!”

The Psychology of Politicians, Ashley Weinberg (Editor), Cambridge University Press.