A Systematic Review: What do We Know About Brazilian Political Psychology Research?

By Juliana Ledur Stucky (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul)

The Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985) was a period marked for political repression and restrictions of civil rights, built under the flag of national-development. The officers who proceeded with the coup d’ètat justified their actions under the alleged fear of implementation of communism (Scarparo, Torres & Ecker, 2014), in a period of relevant tension during the Cold War. This period was marked by violations of human rights causing many people to flee the country to avoid political persecution. Two years before the implementation of the exception regime, Psychology was regulated in Brazil as a proper profession, which undoubtedly brought relevant limitations to the development of this science. Psychologists allied to the regime made use of their knowledge in favor of the dictatorship by attesting the sickness of people who challenged the regime. These actions came in the form of expertise reports or psychological tests (e.g. Rorschach test) in relation to political detainees (Coimbra, 2001, 2004).

Considering the scenario described above, my research proposed a systematic review about political psychology initiated in the light of dictatorship in Brazil, in order to better understand its main topics in the last five decades. The review was conducted in the month of May of 2018, using national databases (Lilacs, Scielo and Pepsic), and international ones (Jstor, Psycinfo and Scopus). The keyword used in the searches was “Political Psychology” and the strings were “Psychology and Policy” and “Political psychology and Brazil”, in the idioms of Portuguese and English. It was also reviewed articles in all publications of the Political Psychology Journal in all of its 23 numbers made electronically available between 2007 and 2016.

Initially, 438 titles were found in the seven databases already excluding the repeated ones. In order to be included the articles had to be empirical, executed in Brazil and versing about Psychology (inclusion criteria). A total of 313 articles did not meet the criteria. The remaining ones should verse on topics about political participation and position, voting behavior, democracy, citizenship, electoral processes and political organizations (exclusion criteria). These topics were inspired in the historical chronology that Jost and Sidanius (2004) presented about political psychology in the United States and the main topics researched by them (between the decades of 1940–1950, personality and culture; decades of 1960/1970, on attitudes and vote behavior; and in the decades of 1980–1990, on ideology and decision). After the adoption of the exclusion criteria and read each of the articles, a total of 19 papers remained to be analyzed. The followed path is represented in the figure below.

Figure 1. Paths indicating the procedure of the systematic review

The 19 remaining articles were organized in three main topics: politicized clinic (n = 2), political behavior (n = 12); and Brazilian military dictatorship (n = 5), given these themes were the ones mostly cited in each of the articles. It is also relevant to mention that we created 3 subgroups for political behavior group: vote (n = 3), ideology (n = 3) and culture (n = 6). The first axis was elaborated based on the idea that we consider politicized clinic closely linked to the historical chronology of the psychology in Brazil as we referred in the beginning of this text. This is because of the union between policy and professional practice, imported with human rights, with the social role of the psychology in the society. This synergy eventually created a field of relevant of actions in Brazil, which is the community psychology — today even more relevant in view of the social inequalities existent in our country. Both articles based on this first axis were preoccupied with the clinical intervention and the role of the therapist in view of the political occurrences and brought by the patients to the setting.

The political behavior axis is, maybe, the result of this psychology that emerged and developed in the first two decades in a country with many limitations in relation to liberties and individual rights, as well as afraid and lacking of democracy: a behavior that emerges is a political one aiming to challenge the regime and to restore the Rule of Law. With the restauration of the democracy in the end of the 1980’s to now, the political behavior is being studied to understand how Brazilians vote (voting is mandatory for Brazilian citizens, natural or naturalized, alphabetized and within the ages of 18 to 70 as of 1988), and is inserted in the democratic process. The vote while as the expression of a right or duty to the population is a topic of study and analysis. All the 12 articles based on the axis two were related to vote, ideology or culture, and tried to explain (i) how Brazilian people use to vote (youth and adults), (ii) the political movements inside Universities and general society and (iii) some very specific Brazilian social groups such as the Movimento dos Sem Terra (movement of small farmers, of Marxist inspiration, that fight for social and rural justice), religious groups and Movimento Passe Livre (non-partisan social movement that fights for the right to public transportation). The third axis is the military dictatorship and how Psychology has operated during that years, in part as allied to the regime and serving as justification to the extreme measures taken against the population, including violent ones, but also as a channel to denounce the abuses of the regime, exposing the losses that were imposed to the Brazilian society, rights and individual liberties. The 5 articles located here tried to understand the effects of almost five decades of military regime in the Brazilian culture, by means of the analyses of (i) official propaganda of the military regime, (ii) excerpts of interviews with guerillas that fought against the military regime; and (iii) actions of members of Brazilian public institutions during the military.

The post-War period put Brazil in a situation of scientific standoff: it was required to survive to the dictatorship to, only then, begin what is called as critical science. The axes here explored inform the role of psychology within the politics: denounce the abuses during the military dictatorial regime and also to develop its politicizing role. As of the end of the 1980´s and the 1988 Constitution, Brazil is experiencing a period of stability in relation to the democracy. Nevertheless, there is an alarming number of people that is trying to promote a return to the ideas raised during the dictatorship based on authoritarianism, restrictions of liberties and reduction of the powers of the Legislative and Judiciary. In this sense, Psychology with all other fields of social science can contribute to keep alive the principles of democracy, Rule of Law, respect to human rights against this wave of authoritarianism that is increasing in Brazil.

About the Author

Juliana Ledur Stucky is a PhD Brazilian student at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul located in south of Brazil. She previously studied Law and Psychology at the same University. Her current research interests are in Political Psychology, focusing on moral foundation, personal values, and attitudes such as right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation.

About the ISPP & its Blog

The International Society of Political Psychology is an interdisciplinary organization representing all fields of inquiry concerned with exploring the relationships between political and psychological processes. If you are interested in contributing an article or have any questions about the blog, please email them or visit the ISPP Blog’s webpage.


Coimbra, C. M. B. (2001). Tortura ontem e hoje: resgatando uma certa história. Psicologia em Estudo, 6(2), 11–19

Coimbra, C. M. B. (2004). Práticas “psi” no Brasil do “milagre”: algumas de suas produções. Mnemosine, 1(0), 48–52.

Jost, J. T., & Sidanius, J. (Eds.). (2004). Political psychology: Key readings. New York: Psychology Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203505984

Scarparo, H. B. K., Torres, S., & Ecker, D. D. I. (2014). Psicologia e ditadura civil-militar: reflexões sobre práticas psicológicas frente às violências de estado. Revista Epos, 5(1), 57–78.

This is the official Medium account for the International Society of Political Psychology administered by the Early Career Committee. www.ispp.org/ecc/blog

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