Voting in a national election causes anxiety and a spike in stress hormones, a new Israeli study has found. Levels of cortisol – a hormone secreted in times of stress to help the body cope with perceived threats — were three times higher just before voting than the levels recorded among people in the control group who were not voting.
The study was conducted on Israel’s Election Day in 2009 as people made their way to vote. Participants gave a saliva sample and completed a questionnaire examining their emotional state at a booth that was placed 30 ft. 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. The findings were published in the recent issue of the scientific journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.
“Emotional changes are related and affect various physiological processes, but we were surprised that voting in national 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 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Faculty of Health Sciences, who conducted the study. “Since we do not like to feel ‘stressed out’,” adds 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.”