The Situationist

The Situational Effect of Negativity on Voting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2012

From Forbes:

Two studies published this month uncover some of the influences that play on the mind as we approach the voting booth.

Think Negative, Think Certain 

The first study, published in the British Journal of Social Psychology uncovers the power of negativity in framing political attitudes.  Researchers presented participants with information about two fictional candidates – one conservative, one liberal – for a position on a government board.

After reading about the two candidates, some participants were asked if they “supported” or “opposed” the liberal candidate and some were asked if they “supported” or “opposed” the conservative candidate. Participants who were led to frame their opinions negatively (“opposed”) – regardless of their underlying preference – expressed more certainty about their attitudes than did participants who were led frame their opinions positively (“supported”).

A follow-up experiment reinforced this result, but also showed that the effect was much stronger when the participants were able to think carefully about the candidates.  The effect was diminished when participants spent less time thinking about the candidates.

Quoting George Bizner, the lead author of the study, “Our prior research showed that framing an opinion in terms of opposition yields stronger attitudes than does framing it in terms of support. The most interesting point from our latest research is that this effect is actually stronger when people process the messages more deeply – when they are motivated and have been able to think about the issue. So, perhaps counter-intuitively, the people who care the most about the issues or candidates seem more likely to be affected by the bias.”

Read the entire article, including the summary of the second study here.

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