Is this post just an excuse for me to talk about Jed Bartlet and The West Wing?
Definitely Maybe. But it’s also an excuse for me to yell at all those people who complain about politics but don’t educate themselves on the issues!! I’m not going to say if I am or am not a fan of the current administration (I lose enough friends telling people to stop eating yummy foods and taking medicine that makes them happy!) – but what I’m not a fan of is people on either side of the fence supporting a candidate when they can’t even articulate their own candidate’s views!
Whew! Ok, sorry – I know this isn’t supposed to be a Rock the Vote commercial. But politics will do that to ya!
And that’s the real reason
besides the fact I’m obsessed with The West Wing that we’re talking about politics: The whole thing is really stressful! And, knowing what we know about stress, I thought it might be interesting to see how physical responses to political stress impact the political process itself.
Luckily, a team of researchers had the same idea
A number of studies have reviewed the relationship between cortisol (a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands during stressful situations) and voting. Not surprisingly, a 2011 study found that “elections are exciting, yet stressful events, and it is this stress, among other factors, that elevates the cortisol levels of voters.” Since elevated cortisol levels have been found to affect memory consolidation, impair memory retrieval and lead to risk-seeking behavior, researchers were a little bit worried about how all that might affect the voting process…
…but probably not near as concerned as politicians who took a look at this next study:
Operating under the hypothesis that participating in politics is socially stressful, so individuals whose cortisol levels increased the most in response to social stress would be the least likely to participate in politics, researchers took a series of saliva samples from over 100 individuals who were subjected to a standardized social stressor, and then correlated the cortisol levels in these samples with the individuals’ previously reported level of participation in various political activities. The result? People with the highest cortisol levels subsequent to social stress were most likely to completely refrain from participating in politics. And, in the political world, ‘completely refrain from participating’ boils down to one thing:
Those people aren’t going to vote.
So what can we do to calm everyone down?
One study noted that, “Initial reaction […] might be to consider increasing voter turnout by chemically reducing people’s cortisol levels.” (You don’t find a lot of ‘laugh out loud’ moments in research studies, so I let myself savor that one for a little bit before I kept reading): “For numerous reasons, this impulse should be resisted.”
Hm. Yes. We should probably resist the urge to chemically alter people’s brains to boost election participation.
What about yoga?
If you think voters are stressed, imagine the poor politicians! (I know there’s probably like three different jokes in there about poor politicians, I just don’t know where to start…) Seriously though, stress can do some pretty bad things to your body, so it’s not surprising that political organizations are beginning to implement exercise-based programs to combat stress. For example, members of the Sri Lankan parliament can now participate in yoga sessions at work!
So what do you think?
If voting stresses people out… and people with strong reactions to social stress tend to avoid it all together… What can we do to make the whole political experience more tolerable? Participating in the democratic process is our most important civic duty – election results can impact every aspect of our lives – but stress is a very real (and very harmful!) factor that we have to take into consideration.
Any chance we can solve this dilemma today in the comment section? ;)
French, J.A., Smith, K.B., Guck, A., Alford, J.R. & Hibbing, J.R. (2011). The Stress of Politics: Endocrinology and Voter Participation. Paper prepared for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Positive Psychology, Istanbul, July 2011.
Haviland, C. (2010). Sri Lankan politicians to de-stress with yoga lessons. BBC News: South Asia. Retrieved: 19 February 2013.
Waismel-Manor, I., Ifergane, G. & Cohen, H. (2011). When endocrinology and democracy collides: Emotions, cortisol and voting at national elections. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 21: 789-795. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2011.03.003