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.
“We understand that emotional changes are related and affect various physiological processes, 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,” said Prof. Hagit Cohen from the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences.
The study was conducted on Israel’s Election Day in 2009 on 113 people who were on their way to vote. They were asked to give a saliva sample for cortisol testing and to complete a questionnaire examining their emotional arousal at a stand that was placed about 10 meters from the ballot box. The control group consisted of other people from the same area who were asked to give a saliva test and complete the questionnaire on post-election day.
“Since we do not like to feel ‘stressed out’,” says 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.”
The study was published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.