Psychological Action Influences Political Participation

How and to what extent people participate in democratic decisions like voting in an election is an interesting field of research in political and social psychology. The level of active participation by people in all aspects of life is calculated by a psychological index called action tendency. Four studies were undertaken, two using data from national and state archives, and the other two based on experiments on individual participants. Results of all studies found that a higher action tendency index means greater political participation.

Political participation, an interesting facet of human behavior, includes activities that lead to the formation of leaders and government. There is a large difference in levels of political participation across different socio-economic groups, as well as regions. Several causes like stronger political interest, political trust, moral conviction, and deeper church involvement are found to influence voter turnout during an election. However, these predictors do not explain fully the basis of individual political participation. The present study investigated whether an individual is more likely to vote if he or she is more active in extra-curricular pursuits like sports and reading, etc.

* In study 1, international archival data of 25 countries was used to calculate the action tendency index. Action tendency index for a society was calculated by determining factors like impulsiveness, activity, pace of life, use of stimulant drugs, newspaper and movie production. Political participation was measured with voter turnout.
* In study 2, U.S. archival data related to physical activity, political participation, and political interest was used to calculate the action tendency index at state level.
* In study 3, 97 students of psychology were primed with action words like “go” and “run” which are known to influence physical and mental activity. They then answered questions regarding their preference of political party and presidential candidate.
* Study 4 tested university level participation in policy making. 77 students of psychology were asked about their attitude toward a policy on a comprehensive exam at the university. They were asked how much time they were willing to volunteer for a policy regarding comprehensive exams.

* This study found that Western countries had a higher action tendency index than Asian and African countries. A higher action tendency index was associated with higher political participation.
* Western states in the U.S. ranked top on action tendency, followed by Midwestern and Eastern states, while Southern states ranked near the bottom.
* Participants primed with action words like “go” reported stronger participation intentions than participants primed with inaction words like “stop.”
* Previous exposure to words like “go” was found to influence the general action tendency of an individual. This in turn influences willingness to participate in political activity.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The four studies measured action tendency and correlated it with political participation from an individual level up to a regional and national level. At all levels, general action tendency levels matched the amount of political participation. Factors like economic activity and political interest were controlled in statistical tests. The influence of culture and extracurricular interests of individuals are factors that might influence the level of participation. These were not included in the study.

These four studies indicate that general action tendencies can increase political participation. This influence is independent of specific factors, like political interest and party identification. Culturally based preference for action is guided by cultural beliefs of the participants and is important. These beliefs may influence involvement in political activity and other domains, even if action in that specific sphere is not a good idea. It is also possible that “advertisements that persuade people to ‘take action’ and technological gadgets that signal people to be ‘active,’ might influence the level of their political participation.” No relation was found between gender and levels of political participation.

For More Information:
Participating in Politics Resembles Physical Activity
Publication Journal: Psychological Science, December 2010
By Kenji Noguchi; Ian Handley; University of Southern Mississippi and State University of Montana

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.