08:13pm Tuesday 12 December 2017

Study Links Physical Activity to Political Participation

The study was inspired by research showing that brains lump all kinds of activity together. For instance, a message that’s meant to promote fitness—physical activity—can also trigger people to eat more—another kind of activity, and with the exact opposite result. Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi, Ian M. Handley of Montana State University, and Dolores Albarracín of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were inspired by the 2008 presidential election to see if the same was true for political activity. 

For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the researchers pulled together data on how often people exercise, diabetes rates, obesity, and use of amphetamines and other stimulants, to create an “action-tendency index” for the 50 states. They ranked states, from the movers and shakers of Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon to slower-paced Mississippi, West Virginia, and Tennessee. The states’ ranking for physical activity roughly corresponded with voter turnout in the 2004 election. 

The researchers also tested this link with experiments. In one experiment before the 2008 election, students completed words with some letters missing—so they were exposed to words like “go” and “active” or “relax” and “paralyze.” Students who had encountered active words were more likely to say they would vote in the presidential election than students who worked with words like “freeze.”

This link to physical activity could be used to encourage people to vote, says Albarracín. “It could be anything from promoting voting in a sports context to connecting voting to a self-help context that encourages being proactive—that’s a big audience that’s thinking about how to improve their own lives and may not otherwise think of doing so politically. This might be easier than getting politically naïve or uninvolved people to vote because they care about politics per se.”

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For more information about this study, please contact: Dolores Albarracín at dalbarra@illinois.edu.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Participating in Politics Resembles Physical Activity: General Action Patterns in International Archives, United States Archives, and Experiments” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Keri Chiodo at 202-293-9300 or kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org.

Contact: Keri Chiodo
Association for Psychological Science
202.293.9300
kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org

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