Using Psychosemantic Methods in Political Psychology

Using Psychosemantic Methods in Political Psychology

DOI: 10.11621/pir.2008.0016

Petrenko, V.F. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia

Mitina, O.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia


This articles concerns the relatively and new and specifically developed in Russia methodology of research of social consciousness. The purpose and in the same time the method of the research using this methodology is reconstruction the system of categories (superordinate personal constructs in the terminology of G. Kelly) through which people perceive world and events around him (her). Especially it is very powerful method when dealing with political and socio-cultural issues, because allows to explicate implicit stereotypes which typically are very deep and difficult for diagnostic. Several examples from different topics of political psychology will be presented.

Themes: Psychosemantics

Pages: 239-264

DOI: 10.11621/pir.2008.0016

Keywords: psychosemantic, methodology

1. Introduction in psychosemantics[1]

According to G. Kelly's theory of personal constructs each person is an unsophisticated or common-sense psychologist, economist, lawyer, etc., i.e. has own individual system of views and notions in various spheres of human life. It may strikingly differ from the scientific picture of the world; nevertheless it determines individual's decision making and behaviour. Braner and Tagiuri (1954) called this system of views and notions "implicit personal theory" (in a given area of knowledge). It is called implicit, because an individual self is, as a rule, unaware of the categorizational structures through which that reality is perceived.

Let us illustrate this idea by the example of linguistics. Linguists specify the concepts of "language performance" and "language competence". A child may perfectly speak the native language ("language performance"), but be unaware of its grammar ("language competence"). An adult, similarly, may be unaware of his own "implicit model" of politics and economy and its underlying categories with the help of which events are identified.

The private and public life of an individual provides many examples of the use of little-reflected knowledge. Every person builds his/her relationships with other people like a "naive psychologist", plans his/her budget like a "natural economist", and having his/her own political prejudices somehow orders his/her representations on power, authorities, state, and political parties. Ethnical values, representations of good and evil, honor, and duty are also cognitively reflected. To denote this prescientific knowledge, everyone possesses the notion of own "implicit theory (model)", about every subject matter.

Experimental psychosemantics is a relatively new field of Russian psychology (Petrenko, 1983, 1988, 2005; Petrenko, Mitina, 1997; Shmelev, 1983, 2002; Artemieva, 1999). It uses the methodology of constructing subjective semantic spaces as operational models of categorical structures of individual and public consciousness, and it intends to reconstruct the image of the world in different areas of human life, according to Moscovici (1988) psychosemantics studies, in particular, accepted social representations. The task of psychosemantics includes a reconstruction of an individual system of meanings through which the subject perceives the world, other people, him- or herself, and also the genesis, structure, and functioning of such system.

The experimental paradigm of psychosemantics originates from Ch.Osgood's (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957) construction of semantic spaces (the so-called semantic differential technique) and Kelley's personal construct psychology (repertory grid technique; Kelly, 1955). It includes multivariate statistical methods for the elicitation of a subject's consciousness categorical structure. Russian psychosemantics is founded on the methodological basis of the schools of L. Vygotsky (1987), A. Leontiev (1978), A. Luria (1981), and S. Rubinshtein (1973), and is connected with the problem of the reconstruction of everyday common consciousness.

Psychosemantics, being a psychological discipline, has nevertheless a clear interdisciplinary character, linked with philosophy and sociology.

The task of experimental psychosemantics, which originates from the works of G. Kelly, Ch. Osgood, Fransella, Bannister etc., repertory grid technique, semantic differential and semantic space construction techniques, is to reveal these cognitive structures.

The construction of subjective semantic spaces is a method of psychosemantics and at the same time a form of representation of the categorical structures of a subjects consciousness (his/her picture of the world). Psychosemantic experiment investigates the subject's knowledge, his system of meanings and constructs in action, and not in introspection. A subject (respondent, interviewee) assesses, scales, classifies, makes judgments on similarity or difference of the analyzed objects, produces associations, etc. On the basis of the subject's judgments and evaluations the researchers construct a data matrix which reflects respondent's experience in a certain sphere (in our case it economy and politics). Then the obtained data matrix is processed by multidimensional statistics procedures - factor and cluster analyses, multidimensional scaling and latent analysis, etc.

The impossibility of direct access to this knowledge and the limitations of introspection imply using an indirect method for their analysis and revelation, the method of operational mediation. The specificity of psychosemantic approach lies in the fact that the analysis of categorical structures of consciousness, the reconstruction of a system of meaning through which the subject perceives the world, is performed in their operation. The subject classifies something, evaluates or scales things, makes judgments on the similarly and difference of objects, etc.

The revealed structures, inherent in data matrix, are interpreted as the categorical structures of subject's consciousness. Being the structures of the individual's realization of the world, the "fundamental blocks", the framework of the respondent's picture/image of the world, they may remain unrealized as such by the subject (i.e. not revealed by self-observation and introspection). Similarly, a child may speak the native language and be unaware of its structure (grammar), though correctly producing utterances on the basis of implicit grammar rules.

The subject's execution of a certain activity (assessment, classification, making judgment on similarity and difference) enables the researcher to actualize the studied cognitive structures, and these structures are projected to and implicitly contained in the "product" of this activity - the data matrix. The application of multidimensional statistics techniques enables the revelation of these structures and contributes to their further interpretation.

The interpretation of the revealed structures is performed by determining a semantic invariant of such elicited factors. To formulate a hypothesis concerning the meaning of factors, the researcher invokes competent experts (the method of independent judges), and to improve interpretation one introduces etalon objects into the initial set of objects, etc.

For instance, factor analysis allows to reveal the "bunches" of intercorrelated features, constructs and thus to reduce the original basis of descriptive features to certain generalized categories - factors, which constituent the coordinate axes of the semantic space. Factor loads of each descriptive feature show the extent to which a given integrative dimension is expressed in this feature and geometrically correspond to its projection on the factor axis. The sign of a factor loading doesn't bear any substantial meaning, but shows to which factor axis extreme (left or right) the scale/feature belongs.

Under such geometric representation personal or cognitive-cultural constructs revealed by factor analysis form the axes of a certain n-dimensional space, and the analyzed objects are represented as points in this space. The magnitude of the object's projection on the semantic axes shows the extent to which the meaning represented by the factor (construct) is expressed in the object (notion, image).

From a mathematical point of view, the construction of a semantic space means the reduction of larger dimensions (features, scales, descriptors) to smaller ones, formed by factor categories. Semantically, factor categories provide a certain metalanguage for the description of meanings, which is why semantic spaces enable us to break down meaning into a fixed alphabet of factor categories, to perform a semantic analysis of these meanings, to make judgments about their similarity or dissimilarity, and to calculate semantic affinity between different meanings by computing the distance between the corresponding coordinate points in the n-dimensional space.

Psychosemantics implement the principle of operational analogy between some parameters acting as operational correlates of cognitive structures. The dimension of a semantic space (the number of independent or weakly correlated factors) reflects the cognitive complexity of individual or group consciousness. Education and personal development lead to the increase of the dimension of consciousness and the appearance of new meaningful factors. On the other hand, the presence of an affect leads to the reduction of semantic spaces dimension and transition to more primitive forms of categorization.

Also individual consciousness is heterogeneous and the subject may have high cognitive complexity in one sphere and low - in another. For example, in Ch.Osgood's semantic space, constructed to investigate the perception of political parties by an ordinary American ("a man from the street") in the end of the sixties, only one factor was revealed. It was interpreted as "benevolent dynamism - powerless malice", and political parties were dispersed along the only axis of such "one-dimensional" semantic space. The situation resembles a "black-white" consciousness of some politicians with "ours - not ours" classification.

On the other hand, on the material of the same "average" Americans Osgood revealed from 7 to 9 independent factors of the perception of "existential concepts" implying significant others or introects (the characters of the internal dialogue): "my father", "my inner Self, "my friend", "my enemy", etc. So, the cognitive complexity of consciousness in this sphere was essentially higher. However, it is obvious that if the subjects had not been "people from the street", but the political scientist from Columbia University, then the dimension of political semantic space would also have been rather high.

Another operational correlate of semantic spaces is the power of the factors revealed (factors' share of the dispersion/variance) which reflects subjective significance of a given categorization basis (represented by the corresponding factor) in the consciousness of the subject. The power of a factor as an indicator of subjective importance of a given basis of categorization, certainly, doesn't determine the position of the respondents in relation to this problem (their coordinates on the axis of this factor). For instance, the factor of "religiousness" would be equally powerful for a religious fanatic and utter atheist.

The content of the revealed factors - the grouping of certain meaningful features (personal constructs in G. Kelly's terminology) - reflects the specificity of a subject's categorization, his way to conceive the world. When a child says that "a dirty shirt is warmer" (Chukovsky, 1970), it is his specific personal construct linking the two characteristics of his experience. When a politician asserts that "privatization is a criminal form to transfer people's property into the hands of comprador bourgeoisie and transnational monopolies", it is also his specific personal construct, reflecting his understanding of the economic reform and his perception of the world.

Finally, analyzed objects (for instance, political parties, prominent political leaders, political values, countries, etc.) are represented (on the basis of their evaluations by respondents) as coordinate points in semantic space, which enables to describe and understand the perception of these objects "by the eyes" of the respondents.

The functioning of human consciousness and subconsciousness is primarily determined by the subject's individual associative system (S. Freud, A.R. Luria, A.A. Brudny), and the difference in the understanding of the world is to a great extent determined by the specificity of the person's "individual language", or, in the terminology of Yu. Karaulov (1987), "linguistic personality".

According W. Humboldt (1984), the fore-runner of "linguistic relativity" theory, "different languages are not only different designations of one and the same thing, but different ways of seeing it". This principle, formulated in application to national cultures as linguistic subjects, could be extended in application to different "linguistic personalities". Each man as a "linguistic personality" is immersed in his own unique world, be it the world of politics, economy, human relations, etc. The lack of coincidence of world categorization forms induces the problem of "lacunas in meaning" as principal incompleteness of translation from one language into another, from one consciousness to another (Markaryan, 1969; Sorokin, Markova, 1985).

A psychosemantic approach to the study of personality implements a "subjective" paradigm in the understanding of the other. A meaningful interpretation of the elicited structures (factor) inevitably demands that we perceive the world through the eyes of the subject, to feel his/her ways of understanding the world. An individual system of meaning reconstructed from the framework of subjective semantic space provides a specially oriented basis for an empathetical process and gives it new semantic grounds.

A psychosemantic approach also allows us to outline new principles of personality typology, where the personality of a subject is viewed not as a set of objective characteristics in the space of diagnostic indicators, but as a bearer of a certain image of the world, as a microcosm of individual meaning and senses.

The uniqueness of human consciousness does not exclude common invariant categorical structures inherent in different social, professional or ethnic communities in relation to certain aspects of social life. The psychosemantic approach allows to investigate the social representations of these population groups and is very powerful method when dealing with political and socio-cultural issues, and aims to construct and describe so-called individual systems of meanings through which individuals perceives the physical and social external world and inner would of him or herself because allows to explicate implicit stereotypes which typically are very deep and difficult for diagnostic. The reasons of these problems might be because of pour mental reflexion of political topics, vague representation in the consciousness and social desirability. In the world of politics, for example, individuals may use political terminology and express attitudes toward various political topics without adequate reflection on and understanding of the subject. In such situations dealing with individual subjects researchers could use projective methods. But when we should analyses mental representation of relatively large group of people as whole we need more standardized and easy quantified methods. Psycho-semantics, using various methods of gathering and interpreting information, examines these individual meanings at the level of symbols, communications, rituals, and - very often - word constructs. Different statistical methods are then used to compare the individual political meanings and put them together into a more comprehensive picture, which may reflect various cognitive trends at the group or societal level.

For example, it is possible to produce a group data matrix on the basis of individual survey lists to investigate the "figures" of public consciousness for a certain empirical sample of respondents, or, applying multidimensional statistic techniques, to perform a theoretical classification of respondents according to their answers to the questionnaire.

Different ideologies raise a task of the unification of man's personal meanings, his "implicit theories", etc., and claim to construct the universal system of the perception of the world: "Is it not clear that the task of "a new language" is to narrow the horizons of thought? Finally we'll make "thought-crime" absolutely impossible, there will remain no words for it. Each necessary concept will be expressed by a single word, the meaning of the word will be strictly expressed, and its secondary meanings will be abandoned and forgotten... The atmosphere of thinking will become different. There will be no thinking in our contemporary meaning of the word at all. An orthodox does not think - he doesn't need thinking. An orthodoxy is an unconscious state" (Orwell, 1949).

On the other hand, the investigation of implicit theories of public consciousness, its categorical structures, allows the society to reflect itself and, consequently, to expand the degrees of freedom in the choice of the ways of its own development.

That is why Psychosemantics is very useful in ethnopsychology, psychology of public communication, psychology of art, political psychology (Pertrenko, Mitina, Berdnikov, 2003; Petrenko, Mitina, 2001; Petrenko, 2005).

2. Measurements people's attitudes about political parties

These attitudes can be described through opinion polls and analyses of opinion leaders' beliefs. But very often psycho-semantic approach gives more reliable and more valid results in this field. Political parties, as unions of politically active individuals who pursue comparable political goals and maintain relatively similar political attitudes, play a role as collective carriers of particular ideologies. Psychologically, political parties may be seen as the groups that convert various interests of different social groups into the language of political demands and programs available for rational comprehension and contemplation. Furthermore, through the struggle of ideas, political parties could stimulate creation of new cognitive constructs, new systems of meanings in individuals. Analyses of both individual and collective meanings (in other words, the semantic space) of political parties could provide a specialist with an opportunity to predict the dynamics of attitudes and their formation, and forecast some of the society's political developments.

Several models could be used for the construction and investigation of the semantic space of political parties.

Inside model. The first model is the direct interpretation or explanation of the parties' positions. The group matrix is formed from "within" – based on the answers of the party members to specially designed questions related to political and economic problems of the society. The factor and cluster analyses of the party matrix allows the positioning of the parties within a multidimensional space, helps visualize the society's "political map", describes political groups and political interests, and predicts some political developments.

Two surveys took place in the early 1990s. The first was conducted in August of 1991, prior to the coup and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The second took place in the fall of 1993, before the dismantling of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation and the armed confrontation between the government and the opposition (the method and procedures are described in: Petrenko, Mitina, 1997; Petrenko, Mitina, 1996; Petrenko, Mitina, Braun, 1995).

The respondents, national leaders of various political parties, were given questionnaires that contained statements and assertions regarding different aspects of the social and political developments taking place in the country. The statements were direct quotes from speeches and interviews of Russian political leaders of different political orientations. Among them were democrats and fascists, nationalists and communists, monarchists and greens. There were some additional statements in the questionnaire taken from the Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents. The list of statements was selected so that it reflected the most frequently discussed problems of the Russian society. The representatives of different political parties, without knowledge about the source of the assertions, were supposed to express their agreement (+1), disagreement (-1), or absence of opinion (0). The final matrix displays general views of the surveyed members of each party participating in the study. In (Petrenko, Mitina, 1997; Mitina, Petrenko, 1999) you can find some data (average scores for each party) gathered in 1991 and 1993 studies.

Examining the answers of the representatives of each party, the investigator is able to form a generalized impression about the political positions of the parties and the proximities one to another and consensus among it's members measured as average variance among answers all members of the party all questions of the questionnaire. One of the forms of the data display could be an attempt to construct the "cluster dendrogram" of the analyzed parties (Tabachnick, Fidel, 2002). The structure of attitudes, while being a cognitive reality, could reflect political realities, such as positions of various political groups and coalitions of political parties. The results reflected many close similarities among the parties' political platforms. If cluster analysis allows to get one integral rule of positioning parties as more or less close to each other, factor analysis of the data allows to reconstruct several dimensions determining parties' positions in the multidimensional space. The procedure has been described in our works mentioned above shows that among the most significant factors splittingpolitical parties in 1991 were the "de-centralization of the state" (for the democrats), the "unified socialist state" (for the communists), and "undivided Orthodox monarchy" (for the nationalists). The weight of the factor "denial or acceptance of the Communist ideology" was unexpectedly less significant compared to these other factors. In order to compare the results of the 1991 and 1993 surveys, only those political parties that participated in both surveys were selected. As a result of a factor analysis and rotation, six major factors (which identify the dynamics of the semantic space of the examined political parties) have been identified. In Fig. 1 boxpolts of factor scores on each of six factors got by the parties participated in both studies are presented. For each factor two boxpolts are given together to visualize differences between opinions. And because not only parties' positions had changed but semantics of the factors itselves, each boxplot is accompanied by the factor names on each poles.

A comparison of the results of the 1991 and 1993 surveys shows that within factor 1, the struggle against totalitarianism has been reoriented. The data reflect diminished societal interests in this problem partly because of its relative resolution, and partly because of the decline of people's interest in politics. On the other hand, totalitarianism has been replaced on the attitudinal level with militant nationalism. Another finding that proves the trend of the decline of people's interest in politics could be a change in factor 3 over the observed period. The absence of a leading ideological doctrine of the transitional society and the diminishing interest in religion may cause further de-ideologization of the society. Analyses of factors 2, 4, 5, and 6 indicate an increased diversity of the answers in 1993 compared with the earlier survey. Problems such as support for the incumbent government, self-governance, and ecological concerns were not as divisive as they became by 1993. The growth of the general diversity in the answers may also suggest the increased importance of these problems for the surveyed individuals. The results also showed that the changes in public consciousness take place in time but also may depend on the location of the surveyed subjects.

The 1993 survey was conducted both in Moscow and in Samara, a relatively large and "typical" Russian city. The comparison showed a significantly low differentiation and lower cognitive complexity of attitudes on the local level compared to the Moscow sample (Petrenko, Mitina, & Brown, 1995).

Figure 1. The Boxplots of factors of semantic space of political consciousness of Russian society (in comparison between 1991 and 1993 years)

Figure 1. The Boxplots of factors of semantic space of political consciousness of Russian society (in comparison between 1991 and 1993 years)

External model. Another model of measurement is based on analyses of the parties' images - the evaluations given td the parties by average voters acting as "experts". The experts, in these cases, use particular scales for the evaluation of the parties' political and economic activities. For example, such study was conducted during parliamentary elections in December 1995 in Russia (Perenko, Mitina, 1997). The respondents were city dwellers with college educations and students who were interested in politics and paid attention to the media. The individuals surveyed were asked to evaluate each party eligible to participate in the elections, on a seven-point scale. The respondents were also asked to predict each party's success in the forthcoming elections. The results, in general, proved that nonexperts could evaluate various political developments quite adequately, even better than political scientists and public opinion experts. The external evaluation of political parties requires that participating subjects have particular abilities to reflect and explain and also have a certain knowledge of politics. Based on the factor analysis of the answers, it is possible to create the semantic space and identify the respondents' political mentalities. The objects of study here could be categorical structures of individuals, larger samples, and the entire society. This method reliably predicts electoral results and allows us to build a multidimensional ranking of the political parties among the electorate. This model could be also effectively used when the respondents are professional policy experts, or highly educated and politically knowledgeable individuals. However, political consciousness of the vast majority of Russians, even if they have their opinions about the economy, culture, religion, and other issues, is not conceptualized and structured.

Certainly, the "internal" and "external" models yield very different results. Predictably, declarations made by politicians about their actions and their parties do not generally match their real actions, and this is reflected in public consciousness.

Diagnostic of political attitudes. There is a third model, however, which juxtaposes political parties' positions (based on the party members' answers) with attitudes of voters about the parties. Within the frame of reference of this method, one cannot create an individual semantic space. However, it is possible to compare the respondents' attitudes within already-created political parties' spaces. In other words, one can determine how close an individual's positions are to positions of a particular party. This method of projection of individual political attitudes upon political position of major parties, used on a larger representative sample, allows researchers to identify potential electoral support of particular political parties. The results could also allow political parties and leaders to either adjust or keep their political opinions, based on the desire to widen their electoral support.

This method of prognosis of electoral results has a lot in common with various methods of indirect questioning in psycho-diagnostic procedures. In personality inventories, the subject is never asked directly about the presence in him or her of a particular trait: The subject may not be aware of its existence. Moreover, the individual could be unfamiliar with professional terminology. In addition, some traits may be seen as negative, not socially desirable, and therefore they could be consciously or unconsciously rejected or denied. However, sociologists and political psychologists, while making their forecasts, often rely on respondents' answers to direct questions, like "What party are you going to vote for in the forthcoming elections?" In a state with a century-old party structure, and with political preferences passed on from one generation to another, the answers regarding two, three, or even four political parties could be effectively analyzed. However, in Russia, where the age of political parties does not exceed twenty years (the multiparty system was legally established in 1989) and voting bulletins contain more then ten party names, the pollsters quite commonly get the "I don't know" answer. Indeed, people cast their votes and make other judgments, but often these decisions seem not to be based on a logical analysis.

Very often the names of the parties are confusing and do not represent real goals of this or that party. For example, the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia is very far from the namesake in Japan or Great Britain, or name "Yabloko" (trans. Apple) does not have anything common with political orientation at all. Very often, the average voter, often makes a decision based on chance. Secondly, political attitudes of most Russians are clearly contradictory and unbalanced. For example, a person could often vote for two political foes at the same time, sharing the same political values with one of them and saying about the other one as about "nice guy" (Petrenko, Mitina, 1997). Therefore, asking direct questions may not always be productive in attitude measurement. The above limits may give psychosemantic methods particular advantages.

3. Measurements people's attitudes about political leaders

Another way to study political attitudes is based on reconstruction the multidimensional rating of political leaders through their evaluations by respondents "from street". This is significant advantage of psychosemantic comparing with traditional ones conducted by sociologists which can reveal only integral images of political leaders.

In the summer of 1997, the respondents, who represented 18 Russian regions, described their opinions about top Russian leaders on a seven-point scale (the study was carried out by a center of political studies, Image-Contact). The sample of respondents represented a wide variety of social attitudes and personal political affiliations. Therefore, the average scores yielded by the survey require additional interpretation because of the diversity (disperse rates) of the answers. As expected, the most contradictory and dispersed evaluations have been received by the most popular political leaders. The less-known leaders received more neutral evaluations, and the answers about them were less dispersed. The factor analysis of the data identified four basic factors, which could be used to interpret how the respondents form their perceptions of political leaders. These factors were: (1) positive« negative evaluation of the politician, (2) liberal values and orientation toward a market economy « socialist values and a state-regulated economy, (3) populist behavior « absence of such, and (4) "iron arm" values « absence of such. Based on the analysis, a cluster structure of the most prominent leaders of 1997 was created. It shows the relative "proximity" and "distance" of political leaders to one other based on people's evaluations.

Choosing these or those scales (descriptors) is very important and determines the results in very large degree. These scales should be relevant to the field of research from one side and also should be cleaned and easy for understanding for respondents. Using traditional scales used by Osgood (list of antonymic pair of adjectives) researcher can get only traditional Osgood factors. There could be different way to think about personal characteristics and evaluate political leaders using these characteristic according scales of personal semantic differential or political semantic differential. In the first case respondents should be sufficiently good experts in personal psychology in the second case have a good knowledge in politics. But if we would like to have more representative sample we should think about scales which could be easy for answers for mostly people. A good example is using idiomatic expressions, which are very popular among people and being asked about political leaders do not make difficulties been asked.

The next study demonstrates results of evaluation some political leaders using idiomatic expressions (folk metaphors, proverbs). Subjects were Moscow university students. The first evaluation was conducted in 2000 (104 subjects) just before the president election. The second evaluation was conducted one year later in 2001 (100 subjects).

The factor analysis extracted 4 factors:

The first factor (34,1 % variance) included in the left pole next variables:

Wall stone




Serve faithfully


Great ship


Being in the ascendant


Lucid mind


Struggles for a just cause


Jack of all trades


Is a Solomon


Rises from rags to riches


And the right pole of the first factor were items:



Tom fool


Shove in wolves having dog's tail


The snow of yester-year


Buggers about


Do not knows oneself does


Nobody home


Does not see an inch before one's nose


King for a day


Fishes in troubled waters


This is the factor of evaluation. Business characteristics have positive connotation here. In the same moment low moral level and absence of purposeful activity related with negative image.

In Fig. 2 you can see positions which evaluated leaders got in semantic space in projection Factor 1 and Factor 2. The leaders who were evaluated twice marked as name 1 and name 2 for 2000 and 2001 years respectively.

V. Putin had the most positive results and it became better during the year between to studies. Positive evaluations got Kasianov, Luzhkov, Yavlinsky, Berezovsky (probably because of very strong namely business characteristics). Negative evaluations got Zhirinovsky, Barkashov and Zuganov.

The second factor (27,1 % variance) included:

Hell of a fellow


Dutch courage


Has balls


Is a cagey old bird


Breathes fire and fury


A deep file


Takes the bull by the horns




Stubborn as a mule


Opposite pole includes:

Neither fish nor fowl


Is no conjurer


Is no conjurer


This factor can be interpreted as metaphoric for of "Strength Ego" of a person, decision abilities, experience. Zhirinovsky was the leader in this factor, but also Luzkov, Putin, Berezovsky. The losers in this category were Panfilova, Gaydar, Podberezkin, Kasianov.

Figure 2. Positions of political leaders in semantics space (factors 1 and 2).

Figure 2. Positions of political leaders in semantics space (factors 1 and 2).

The third factor (8,1 % variance) included items:

A wolf in sheep's clothing


Harbours a grudge


A snake in the grass


Has been at the cookie jar


In opposition:

Popular patron


Unlocked hearts


This is a factor of morality characteristics (comparing with the first one of business treats). As "patrons" for people subjects see Yavlinsky, Govorukhin, Zuganov (whose image increased during the year in this direction) (see Fig. 3). As negative leaders are evaluated Berezovsky, Dzhabrailov, Skuratov, Putin moved from negative pole to neutral.

The forth factor (7,2 % dispersion) included ideoms:

thick skull


kvass patriot[2]


In opposition:





The content of this weak factor forms a specific construct which opposites jingos in different degrees to "Scapegoats - Westerners". In the role of last ones subjects see Gaydar, Berezovsky and with less factor score Yavlinsky. In this dimension Putin is close to Zuganov. However his second position after the second survey moved to the center significantly. Also we would like to stress that the survey was conducted shortly after the 11th of September 2001 and the following after this terrorist events course on closer relations with the US had not realized in public opinion yet.

Concluding this part say that because idiomatic expressions have equivalents in different languages it is possible to use the same list of descriptors for cross-cultural research to reconstruction and comparing categorical system of perception political leaders. From the other side we would like to stress that this example should be considered basically as methodological example and does not reflect representevely public opinion in Russia in a whole or in Moscow partly. We use university students as subjects to demonstrated the advantages of evaluation using idiomatic expression even in the sample which is sufficiently apolitical. But to get representative results researchers should be more careful about samples because it is well know that students opinion differ from population opinion from one side and people living in Moscow differ from people living in other regions of Russia.

Figure 3. Positions of political leaders in semantics space (factors 3 and 4)

Figure 3. Positions of political leaders in semantics space (factors 3 and 4)

4. Psychosemantic Analysis of the Categorical Structure of the Social Representation of Economic and Political Reform in Russia

In another study conducted before the parliamentary elections of 1995 (Petrenko, Mitina, 1997), several semantic models were constructed to describe the respondents' evaluations of both economic and political reforms. More than one thousand respondents from eight different regions were asked to evaluate various parties, their leaders, and different social events in terms of their impact on the major economic and political changes in Russia. As a result of the analysis, a typology of Russian people's attitudes toward the transformation and the reform process was created. There have been six major factors underlying people's attitudes about political transformations identified: (1) morality versus lack of morality, (2) totalitarianism versus democratization, (3) economic benefits versus lack of such, (4) dependency on developed countries versus independence from them, (5) criminalization of the economy versus absence of such, and (6) defense capability versus absence of such. In general, the study revealed an interesting phenomenon of mismatch among several of the expressed attitudes. Realizing the importance and usefulness of the economic reform (privatization, transition to a market economy, and private property), the respondents also evaluated these changes negatively, primarily in the categories of ruined morality and lack of social justice.

This discrepancy, a split in attitudes about the reforms, could be explained by at least two arguments. First of all, people's understanding of moral issues has been formed during the period of socialism, with its Marxist views on exploitation and private property, free health care and education, and social protection in general. These perceptions also have deep roots in Russian history and are based on the communal way of thinking, and a mentality of abstinence from the time of the Orthodox reformation. Secondly, "nomenclature privatization", corruption among many government officials, and active participation of criminal structures in the process of the redistribution of property, cause negative evaluations from most Russian people.

The semantic space described above is so called average space. But of course the society is not homogenous concerning political attitudes. That is why there was an attempt made to use the factor analysis method to identify particular types of political attitudes and describe social and demographic characteristics of the following discovered types. These six types of attitudes represented Russian ideological pluralism, with the first type conveying ideas of the state regulations over the economy, and the other five diverse types representing market-based relationships.

The semantic space of the respondent of the first type was characterized by the lowest cognitive complexity. They supported a planned economy and were convinced that only the old (communistic) party nomenclature would be able to revive the economy and took care of politics. The most significant attribute of this group was its age. Most people in that cluster in the moment of research (1995) were over 40, and most of them evaluated their material situation as poor. Among them were engineers, retirees, housewives, blue-collar workers with few qualifications, and those who voted for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The respondents of the second type were characterized by their market-oriented attitudes. These were people of an average income, politically active scientists, artists, and those who voted for democratically oriented politicians. The third type resembles the previous one; however, this type had a higher cognitive complexity, and the individuals within that group were also less categorical in their judgments. There was a relative prevalence of men in that category who assessed their income as very high, and Muscovites who had their own business. Generally, that group was apolitical. Those who voted in this group preferred to support Gaidar or Yavlinsky. The attitudes of the fourth group were both market-oriented and negative toward the contemporary political reforms in the country. The ideal reform path was seen by them as going from "the bottom to the top". They believed that democracy copied after the Western models were wrong for Russia. Their ideal was the Orthodox collectiveness (sobornost). The church was regarded very highly. The most typical representatives of this group could be such renowned Russian movie directors as Stanislav Govorukhin and Nikita Mikhalkov, with their nostalgic desire to restore the "lost" Russia. This type was comprised of people between the ages of 25 and 40, primarily men; most of them had high incomes. They negatively evaluated all political parties, but consider themselves supporters of the democrats. Individuals of the fifth type showed attitudes, which in part resemble the market-oriented attitudes of the second type. But contrary to the second type, these attitudes were less influenced by a particular ideology. In general, the attitudes conveyed support of greater regional independence. People who express these attitudes were mostly women, students, and recent college graduates. The sixth type also represented market-oriented attitudes. Most people in that group were over 55, mostly women with college educations, who evaluated their income as low, and who worked primarily in academia, education, and health-care fields.

5. Cross-Confessional Investigation of Religious Visions of the World in the Context of the Fight against Terrorism

Goals of this study: cross-confessional investigation of value systems in religions spread in Russia and establishing to what extent they are spiritually acceptable to Russians. Procedure: 160 fragments of religious canonical texts containing moral judgments (Russian Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism presented by Krishna Consciousness) and representative texts of communist and fascist ideologies, which claimed in the 20th century quasi-religious status. Respondents were asked to express their agreement/disagreement how the texts or statements match to representative of this or that religions using a 7-point scale (from +3 "agree completely" to - 3 "absolutely disagree"). Subjects were not informed about the sources of these statements though some of them were easily recognized. Also they should evaluate oneself and typical person according these scales.

Individual matrices with 10 role positions on 160 statements were brought together and formed one group average matrix which was subsequently analyzed by means of factor analysis. As a result, four factors were selected that explained 42 %, 27 %, 8 % and 6 % of total variance.

Factor 1 had on one axis statements like:

Do not murder (Exodus).

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you {The Gospel according to Matthew).

Hate shall never stop hate in the world but it stops in the absence of hate (The Dhammapada).

Do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your rights cheek, turn to him the other also (The Gospel according to Matthew).

Wars cannot be conducted for the sake of gaining territory (Hadith).

The other axis contained the following statements:

He is unworthy who is unable to revenge (Nietzsche).

Those who want to live have to fight and those who keep away from fight do not deserve to live (Hitler).

The stronger shall rule the weaker (Hitler).

One shall be punished by death for the crime committed (The Book of Deuteronomy).

A soul for a soul, an eye for an eye, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth and wounds shall be avenged (Koran).

If a man does evil but for the sake of loyal faithfulness, he shall be as righteous as he is in the right way (Bhagavat Gita).

Thus, on one axis we have here the judgments that forbid violence even with best intentions. Many of these statements contain a negation. In its strongest expression, it demands love toward one's own enemies.

On the opposite axis we have the statements that belong mainly to Nietzsche and Hitler that emphasize the right of the strength. There are also statements from the Old Testament and the Koran about the right to retribution.

We can see the locations of representations of religions in semantic space (Fig. 4). From the point of view of our respondents, Christianity, Buddhism, Krishna Consciousness preach forgiving, tolerance and no evil deeds even for the sake of good purpose.

Figure 4. Semantic space of religions. (Factors 1 and 2)

Figure 4. Semantic space of religions. (Factors 1 and 2)

Thus, the first factor has been interpreted in the following way:

"Violence forbidden « Violence for the sake of a good purpose (or 'The end justifies the means")".

Factor 2 included statements like:

Do not take gifts (The Book of Exodus).

Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (The Gospel according to Matthew).

No piece for those who strive to satisfy their wishes (Bhadavad Gita).

The love of money is a root of all sort of evil (First Timothy).

Wealth gives rise to immoderate desires (Islam Nadjul Balagha).

Wine and gambling are great sins (Koran).

If you want to live quietly, learn to do without things which are unnecessary (L. Tolstoy).

Pride precedes death and arrogance precedes fall (The Book of Proverbs). On the opposite axis we have the following statements: Follow your passions, good or evil (Nietzsche).

Evil instincts serve their purpose as they preserve the species (Nietzsche).

The contents of factor 2 can be expressed as "Control of passions and desires « Self-indulgence". Almost all religions demand self-restriction and humility (see Fig. 4). On the opposite axis we find the representations of "myself and "typical person s". Religion establishes a certain ideal towards which one should strive. However normal people are disposed to passions, pride, bodily desires and attractions.

Communist ideology also imposes some limitations ("communal is more important than individual"). As for fascism, according to our respondents, it is neutral on this issue.

Factor 3 had to do with the pair "Rigid norms of behavior « Possibility to choose".

On the one hand, we found strictly normative statements like: The thief's hand shall be cut off as retribution for his gain (Koran). Man is responsible for all sins of the woman (Nietzsche). People must not eat the meat of animals (Bhagavad Gita) etc. On the other hand offered the choice for person: As your soul wants it, you can get and eat meat (The Book of Deuteronomy).

Church belief is slavery (Tolstoy), etc.

On factor 3, Judaism and Islam, being strictly normative religions, oppose Christianity (Russian Orthodoxy and Catholicism) that allow more freedom of choice, as well as communism with its conscious choice (Fig. 5).

Weak Factor 4 included the statements being interpreted as illusion and those on primacy of individualism (a kind of moral solipsism) like the following:

Ruler of death does not see those who see the world as mirage (The Dhammapadd).

Living means permanently pushing away things that have to die (Nietzsche).

The other axis presented the statements that emphasize involvement in the world of people:

Man finds happiness only in serving others (Tolstoy), etc.

On factor 4, role representations of Buddhists and the followers of the Krishna Consciousness (both being individualistic religions), are away from Christianity, Islam and Judaism while representations referring to "myself, a "typicl person" and a "communist" are neutral (Fig. 5).

Factor 4 can be interpreted as "Illusive nature of being <-> Inclusion in the world of people".

Figure 5. Semantic space of religions. (Factors 3 and 4)

Figure 5. Semantic space of religions. (Factors 3 and 4)

We would like to stress that these results are not based on profound religious analysis but reflect our respondents' representations concerning religions. However, we plan to work with those who are professionally involved in religious activities, i.e. priests, pastors, mullahs, rabbis, lamas etc. and with proponents of the two mentioned ideologies (fascism and communism). Semantic space based on their judgments, together with representations of the population will provide a picture of religious views and show typical people's attitudes to specific religious confessions or ideologies. Psycho-semantic analysis exposes the deepest religious and moral feelings of persons while sociological surveys reflect only conscious reactions of respondents and are not free from 'social desirability', ethnic influences and social conformity with religious rituals. Such an investigation will make it possible to determine an approximate percentage of true believers and those who claim to be believers, as well as the percentage of people oriented at specific religious values.

In conclusion we would like to stress that results (questions' distributions on factors, factor scores which scaled concepts (roles, parties, political leaders) got on each factors cannot be considered as exact numbers. Researchers should use these or those results as tendencies or illustrations for theoretical speculations and conclusions, as fruitful way for producing new hypotheses. The working with and understanding of results getting from analysis psychosemantic data could be compared with so called flexible modeling versus restrict modeling (which oriented on improving and developing methods from mathematical point of view, search formal ways of verification and testifying of hypothesis about models and structures). Flexible modeling postulates existing models with limited accuracy, does not assume the model a priory, but reconstructs it as method of research of empirical reality. Comparing with science humanitarian field is not so advanced to pretend on great success in predictions about behavior of so complex systems as personality or society of peoples. But including new methods in arsenal of humanitarian researcher expands his or her cognition abilities and skills dealing with studied field.


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[1]This study was supported by 08-06-001-176a grant from Russian Foundation for Basic Research.

[2] We could not find the analog of this idiom in English. In Russian in means the person who grossly exaggerates of small features of national mentality and traditions.

To cite this article: Petrenko V.F., Mitina O.V. (2008). Using Psychosemantic Methods in Political Psychology. Psychology in Russia: State of the Art, 1, 239-264

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