BEER-SHEVA, Israel – Voting is a stressful event, and can even induce measurable hormonal changes, say researchers here at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
“We understand that emotional changes are related and affect various physiological processes,” said Prof. Hagit Cohen of the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, “but we were surprised that voting in democratic elections causes emotional reactions accompanied by such physical and psychological stress that can easily influence our decision-making.”
In a study to be published in “European Neuropsychopharmacology,” researchers found that the level of cortisol – a hormone secreted in times of stress to help the body cope with threats – was nearly three times higher just before voting than the cortisol level of the control group, and nearly twice their level 21 months later.
The study was conducted on Israel’s Election Day in 2009, when 113 people on their way to vote were asked to give a saliva sample for cortisol testing, and to complete a questionnaire examining their emotional arousal. In the control group, people were tested on the day following the election.
The study also found that people were more emotionally aroused just before casting their ballot.
“Since we do not like to feel ‘stressed out’,” said Prof. Cohen, “it is unclear whether this pressure on Election Day can influence people and cause them not to vote at all. Impact on voter turnout is particularly important given that the stress levels rise if our preferred party, or candidate for whom we want to vote, is not popular in the polls and projections.”