Political engagement’s non-political roots: examining the role of basic psychological needs in the political domain

  • Alexander WuttkeEmail author
Original Paper


For the functioning of democratic societies, it is a crucial question why some citizens value or even enjoy political engagement while others hardly bother about politics at all. However, despite scholarly agreement on the relevance of childhood experiences, the early causes of varying inclinations for volitional political engagement remain largely unidentified. Arguing for the relevance of non-political factors, this study theorizes the role of basic psychological needs in shaping proclivities for political engagement. Specifically, this study hypothesizes that children who grow up in need-supportive parental homes will be more inclined to engage with politics decades later. Findings from two independent representative cohort studies (N = 5927, N = 6158) suggest that need-supportive parenting stimulates the development of curiosity and appreciation towards politics. Moreover, need-supportive parenting interacts with social learning processes in stimulating political engagement. Providing insights into the promotion of political engagement, these findings underscore the importance of factors seemingly remote to the political domain but deeply engrained in human processes of psychosocial functioning.


Political participation Political socialization Value transmission Self-determination theory Political motivation 



For comments and suggestions, I thank the participants of the colloquia at the Chair of Political Psychology (University of Mannheim) and at the Research Chair in Electoral Studies (Université de Montréal), Martina Zemp, the reviewers and the editors who helped me improve the manuscript.


There was no funding for this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 2218 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mannheim Centre for European Social ResearchMannheimGermany

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