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A new study by social psychologist Christopher Bryan and his colleagues at Stanford University has shown that people can become more motivated and engaged, by doing nothing more than changing the word “vote,” to “voter.

Three randomized experiments found that changing the language of “get out and vote” campaigns has the power to increase voting and related behavior. A group of registered voters for the 2008 election were sent questions asking half the group if it was important to vote, the other half got surveys asking if it was important to be a voter. 87.5 responded yes to the second question while only 55.6 did so with the first.

The survey recipients were all young and from California, so to make sure the results were correct, they sent out surveys to 214 older registered voters from New Jersey just before their gubernatorial election, and found similar results; 90% for the “voter” group versus 79% for the “vote” group.

Bryan believes that this effect is because it is seen as positive to “be a voter” but less positive to “get out and vote”. The people surveyed felt more motivation to be part of a group of people that take part in the action, rather than just doing the action themselves. The effect they observed depends on the fact that voting is something most people feel that they should do.

What is intersting is that Bryan and his team do not believe that a manipulation of this sort would induce people to engage in behavior in which they feel they should not engage. So making someone a cheater or a quitter is a little more complicated.


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