Study examines role of stress hormones in voting

Jul 2, 2014

A new study by a team of UNL and UNO researchers finds there might be a biological reason why some people don’t vote.

The psychology and political science researchers, along with Rice University, studied the role of the stress hormone cortisol in voting behavior. Researchers collected saliva samples from 105 participants. Those participants were tested before and after doing two perceived stressful activities: solving a complex math problem, and writing a public speech. The study also used records from the Secretary of State’s office.

Jeff French is director of UNO’s neuroscience program, and one of the authors of the study. He says they found that people with a high starting level of cortisol were less likely to vote.

"The baseline cortisol did not predict participation in non-voting political activities, and it wasn’t a very strong predictor of participation in religious activities. So this relationship between a high stress set point and low voting activity seems to be, again, specific for the act of voting, but not for other measures of political participation, or religious participation."

French says political participation could be increased through the use of alternate ways to vote, including by mail or online. Early voting is already an option.