waiting to vote Knesset_311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Just looking at haggard politicians running for office makes it clear that
electioneering is a very stressful experience for them. But researchers have
found that the simple act of casting one’s ballot in the voting booth and
“deciding the nation’s fate” can affect physiological processes and be stressful
– and also depends on one’s party of choice.
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A joint University of Haifa
and Ben-Gurion University team found recently that voting and its effect on
one’s hormones can influence the decision- making process.
Waismel-Manor of the University of Haifa’s political science department,
Dr. Gal Ifergane (the Haifa researcher’s brother-in-law) of BGU and
Soroka University Medical Center’s neurology department and Prof. Hagit Cohen of
the Health Ministry’s Beersheba Mental Health Center took saliva samples from
113 adult volunteers living in the Beersheba suburb of Omer. All the volunteers
were about to step into the voting booth on Tuesday, February 10, 2009, the day
of the most recent Knesset election that was a day off from work (for most
people). They also asked the same voting group about their affective state,
i.e. their emotions at the time.
The team retested 21 months later
(at the same time of day they voted) on a calm Friday in their homes the people
who participated in the election, as well as a much smaller control group of
Omer voters the day after the election. The findings, the political scientist
told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, will soon be published in the journal
The team, in what they call the first
study of its kind, found that voting affects the level of cortisol in the
Known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released when a person
is under pressure, and helps the body cope with threats. Just before casting
one’s vote in an election, cortisol levels were significantly higher than in the
same individuals in similar non-voting conditions.
“It is important to
understand that emotions can affect biological processes, which in turn can
influence our decision- making processes,” said Waismel-Manor, who also found
that Kadima and Labor Party voters were more stressed than Likud and Israel
Beiteinu voters before casting their votes. Earlier studies have shown that when
a person is under pressure, threat or emotional stress, the body releases a
series of hormones that assist it in coping with the situation.
results show that the level of cortisol in individuals immediately before voting
was almost three times higher than in the following day control group, and
almost twice these voters’ own cortisol levels almost two years after Election
Day. The study also revealed that individuals about to cast a vote were
emotionally aroused, both in terms of positive effect, such as sharpness and
inspiration, and negative effect, such as nervousness or
People who said they would vote for a party that polls
predicted would lose seats and might not serve in the next government had higher
cortisol levels than those who intended to vote for a party that polls predicted
were to gain seats and had a good chance of forming the new
Waismel-Manor said he and his team chose Omer, the well-off
suburb in the South, because much of the rest of the country was due to have
very wintry weather that could skew the results and because well-educated
suburban residents were most likely to agree to participate and give a saliva
sample. The voting queues at the Omarim School were not crowded or have anything
that would otherwise cause stress, he said.
The researchers emphasized
that their findings are just a first step in understanding the link between
biological stress and voting. The study did not examine whether the high levels
of cortisol affect the actual vote, but evidence linking the decision-making
processes and biological processes should be examined in future studies.
Waismel- Manor said he hopes to obtain funding to do a larger study on Election
Day for the US presidential vote in November 2012.
decision-makers, stock traders and the general public have shown that higher
levels of cortisol influence decision- making. Elevated cortisol leads to
risk-taking behavior and at the same time impede memory retrieval. These
findings, along with the results of the present study, bring into question the
decision-making process among voters.
“Our study has found that voting is
both exciting and stressful, psychologically and physiologically. It remains to
be seen whether Election Day stress is capable of altering voting decisions and
outcomes,” the political scientist concluded.