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Voters' ballots influenced by psychological depth

By Katherine Yaremko, Columnist

As politicians vie for attention and elections grow more prominent in the American mindset, I find the amount of stimuli in our environment that escapes our conscious attention fascinating.

I still remember sitting in an Introduction to Psychology class sophomore year as the professor played a clip of students playing a ball game. We were asked to count the number of times the ball was passed between players. Given the speed with which the ball switched hands, that single task easily assumed my whole attention. At the end of the clip, we were asked if we had noticed anything strange in the video. After a second viewing I was shocked to see an imitation gorilla cutting across the court. It was impossible to miss, and yet I had done just that.

The problem of voting needs more than a focus of attention; it also needs the application of repeated positive reinforcement. This technique works with other goals as well. If someone receives plenty of genuine compliments, they are more likely to have higher self-esteem than if they receive verbal harassment and put-downs. This is not revolutionary information by any means. Yet, when it comes to achieving a goal and generating the right amount of enthusiasm, passion, and motivation, we may need to look outside of ourselves for such things. Instead of seeking such direction internally, which seems to be the prevailing wisdom, we should look for ways of getting such things from our environment, such as receiving more support from encouraging friends or reading inspiring stories of other individuals. Such knowledge is especially relevant as students are preparing to venture out into the "real world."  

These techniques apply to voting more than one might think. Scientists have found a number of influential factors that can sway, to some extent, whether a citizen casts a vote. The results from sports games, which a politician's name appears first on the ballot, and even the weather is on Election Day, can create a significant enough impact on how individuals will vote. For example, a group of political scientists noticed a correlation between the weather and voting patterns as far back as 1948. Apparently, less-than-optimal weather seems to produce better election results for Republicans, possibly because those within a lower socioeconomic bracket are more likely to vote Democrat and rely more on public transportation. This causes problems if the weather grows ugly, increasing the chances that certain individuals won't be able to make it to the polls. While these are merely correlations, incapable of rendering an absolute causal relationship, they still show a role in influencing elections.

The larger issue is that there are a number of variables that influence our behaviors and attention, which we may be completely oblivious to. The cues present in our environment can cause us to think about particular issues we may not have intended to. If we are aware of this, we can use it to help us achieve our goals.

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