Skip to main content

Affect, Social Pressure and Prosocial Motivation: Field Experimental Evidence of the Mobilizing Effects of Pride, Shame and Publicizing Voting Behavior

Abstract

Citizens generally try to cooperate with social norms, especially when norm compliance is monitored and publicly disclosed. A recent field experimental study demonstrates that civic appeals that tap into social pressure motivate electoral participation appreciably (Gerber et al., Am Polit Sci Rev 102:33–48, 2008). Building on this work, I use field experimental techniques to examine further the socio-psychological mechanisms that underpin this effect. I report the results of three field experiments conducted in the November 2007 elections designed to test whether voters are more effectively mobilized by appeals that engender feelings of pride (for reinforcing or perpetuating social and cultural values or norms) or shame (for violating social and cultural values or norms). Voters in Monticello, Iowa and Holland, Michigan were randomly assigned to receive a mailing that indicated the names of all verified voters in the November 2007 election would be published in the local newspaper (pride treatment). In Ely, Iowa voters were randomly assigned to receive a mailing that indicated the names of all verified nonvoters would be published in the local newspaper (shame treatment). The experimental findings suggest shame may be more effective than pride on average, but this may depend on who the recipients are. Pride motivates compliance with voting norms only amongst high-propensity voters, while shame mobilizes both high- and low-propensity voters.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Coleman (1988, 1990) argues it is rational for individuals to consider civic norms when contemplating contributing to public goods. Knack (1992) builds on this work, focusing on applications to voting.

  2. I note that early voting, which is permitted in Iowa but not in Michigan, would only make the estimated treatment effects I report below more conservative.

  3. The ratios of subjects assigned to treatment and control conditions vary across towns due to practical considerations, primarily resource constraints. Allocations were made to maximize power given these constraints.

  4. Notwithstanding my best efforts to avoid interference, I cannot rule out the possibility that treatment subjects interacted with subjects assigned to the control conditions, thus violating the basic assumption of no interference in causal inference. I acknowledge that such violations can potentially add bias to the estimated treatment effects, but the direction of the bias can be positive or negative.

  5. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the population in Holland, MI was 35,048, 3,607 in Monticello, IA and 1,149 in Ely, IA. Per capita incomes in 2000 were $20,857, $16,699, and $20,936 for locations respectively.

  6. As noted above, all three towns included in the experiments are small (in terms of population) and have similar socioeconomic (per capita income) characteristics, but there are some differences. Households in Holland, MI contain more women, and voters in Monticello, IA households are generally older, than in the other sites.

  7. Ideally, subjects in each experimental location (context) would have been randomly exposed to both treatment conditions (pride and shame), but this was avoided, primarily for practical reasons, in order to prevent a violation of the stable unit treatment value assumption (SUTVA) that could occur as subjects in the same community interact. Given the choice to focus on relatively small towns, there would have been such a danger in introducing both treatments in any one setting. Such contamination could have compromised the reliability of the experimental results.

  8. The original intent was to publish voters’ names as indicated. After receiving several calls from local elections officials expressing concerns about publishing names in the newspapers, I decided to bypass this step. This decision followed the election, however, and there is no reason to suspect subjects would have anticipated the names would not ultimately to be published. I expect the decision not to publish the names exerted no influence on subjects’ reaction to the initial intervention.

  9. The post-experimental criterion validity check was conducted between October 30 and November 2, 2008. Ideally, the manipulation check would have been conducted in advance, but the results should be consistent. Students completed the survey online and data was collected using www.surveymonkey.com.

  10. This approach is adopted from work in social psychology. See Lerner and Keltner (2001) and Lerner et al. (2004) for details.

  11. Details about the manipulation check and a complete questionnaire are available upon request.

  12. I note the criterion I adopt to determine “successful contact” (postcards were not returned) is quite conservative. It is conceivable that failure to treat subjects could have resulted from other impediments (cards were delivered late, discarded without being seen by the intended household members, or not looked at until after the election). I acknowledge that non-treatment of cases assigned to be treated may include observable (returned postcards) as well as unobservable non-treatment. Such measurement error in a known direction would plausibly increase the estimated treatment effects, however. A narrower definition of “successful contact” to take such circumstances into account would likely only enhance the number of unsuccessfully treated subjects, thereby increasing the magnitude of the observed treatment effects.

  13. I also include a dummy variable to account for cases of missing or unavailable covariate data.

  14. I note that restricting the analysis to comparisons between the two Iowa towns included in the study, which exhibit greater similarities (in terms of geographic location (Cedar Rapids metropolitan area), demographic composition, and baseline voting propensity), suggests the pride and shame treatments were roughly equally effective.

References

  • Angrist, J. D., Imbens, G. W., & Rubin, D. B. (1996). Identification of causal effects using instrumental variables. Journal of American Statistical Association, 91, 444–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arceneaux, K. (2005). Using cluster randomized field experiments to study voting behavior. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 601, 169–179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arceneaux, K., & Nickerson, D. (2009). Who is mobilized to vote? A re-analysis of eleven field experiments. American Journal of Political Science, 53(1), 1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barrett, K. C., & Campos, J. J. (1987). Perspectives on emotional development II: A functionalist approach to emotions. In J. D. Osofsky (Ed.), Handbook of infant development (2nd ed., pp. 555–578). Oxford, England: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bear, G., Manning, M., & Izard, C. (2003). Responsible behavior: The importance of social cognition and emotion. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 140–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Belli, R. F., Traugott, M. W., & Beckmann, M. N. (2001). What leads to voting overreports? Contrasts of overreporters to validated voters and admitted nonvoters in the American national election studies. Journal of Official Statistics, 17(4), 479–498.

    Google Scholar 

  • Benabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2006). Incentives and prosocial behavior. The American Economic Review, 96(5), 1652–1678.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blais, A. (2000). To vote or not to vote?. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brader, T. (2005). Campaigning for hearts and minds: How emotional appeals in political ads work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brehm, S. S., & Brehm, J. W. (1981). Psychological reactance: A theory of freedom and control (pp. 327–343). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bufacchi, V. (2001). Voting, rationality and reputation. Political Studies, 49, 714–729.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cialdini, R., & Goldstein, N. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 592–621.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, S95–S120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coleman, J. (1990). Foundations of social theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2000). Evolutionary psychology and the emotions. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., pp. 91–115). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Curry, G. (2004). How to increase black voter turnout. Commentary, District Chronicles. August 26. Accessed online November 8, 2008 at http://media.www.districtchronicles.com/media/storage/paper263/news/2004/08/26/Commentary/How-To.Increase.Black.Voter.Turnout-706004.shtml.

  • Downs, A. (1957). An economic theory of democracy. New York: Harper and Row.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fitzgerald, M. (2008). ‘Tennessee tribune’ list of non-voters stirs controversy. Editor & Publisher. October 16. Accessed online November 8, 2008 at http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003874959.

  • Frijda, N. H. (1986). The emotions. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Funk, P. (2006). Modern voting tools, social incentives and voter turnout: Theory and evidence. Mimeo, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

  • Gerber, A. S., & Green, D. P. (2000). The effects of canvassing, direct mail, and telephone contact on voter turnout: A field experiment. American Political Science Review, 94, 653–663.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gerber, A. S., & Green, D. P. (2005). Do phone calls increase voter turnout? An update. The Science of Voter Mobilization. Special Editors D. P. Green & A. S. Gerber. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 601, 142–154.

  • Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., & Larimer, C. W. (2008). Social pressure and voter turnout: Evidence from a large scale field experiment. American Political Science Review, 102, 33–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gollwitzer, P. M., & Moskowitz, G. B. (1996). Goal effects on action and cognition. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 361–399). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254–284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Knack, S. (1992). Civic norms, social sanctions and voter turnout. Rationality and Society, 4, 133–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kropf, M., & Knack, S. (2003). Viewers like you: Community norms and contributions to public broadcasting. Political Research Quarterly, 56(2), 187–197.

    Google Scholar 

  • LeDoux, J. E. (1996). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2001). Fear, anger and risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(1), 146–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lerner, J. S., Small, D. A., & Lowenstein, G. (2004). Heart strings and purse strings: Effects of specific emotions on economic transactions. Psychological Science, 15(5), 337–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marcus, G., Neuman, W. R., & MacKuen, M. (2000). Affective intelligence and political judgment. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mascolo, M. F., & Fischer, K. W. (1995). Developmental transformations in appraisals for pride, shame and guilt. In J. P. Tangney & K. W. Fischer (Eds.), Self-conscious emotions: The psychology of shame, guilt, embarrassment and pride (pp. 64–113). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Murphy, K., & Harris, N. (2007). Shaming, shame, and recidivism. British Journal of Criminology, 47(6), 900–917.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Neuman, W. R., Marcus, G., Cigler, A., & MacKuen, M. (Eds.). (2007). The affect effect: Dynamics of emotion in political thinking and behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Niven, D. (2004). The mobilization solution? Face-to-face contact and voter turnout in a municipal election. Journal of Politics, 66, 868–884.

    Google Scholar 

  • Opp, K.-D. (2001). Why do people vote? The cognitive-illusion proposition and its test. Kyklos, 54, 355–378.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Parry, J., Barth, J., Kropf, M., & Jones, E. T. (2008). Mobilizing the seldom voter: Campaign contacts and effects in high-profile elections. Political Behavior, 30(1), 97–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Posner, R., & Rasmusen, E. (1999). Creating and enforcing norms, with special reference to sanctions. International Review of Law and Economics, 19, 66–84.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ringold, D. J. (2002). Boomerang effects in response to public health interventions: Some unintended consequences in the alcoholic beverage market. Journal of Consumer Policy, 25, 27–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shachar, R., & Nalebuff, B. (1999). Follow the leader: Theory and evidence on political participation. American Economic Review, 89(3), 525–547.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith, R., Webster, M., Parrott, W. G., & Eyre, H. (2002). The role of public exposure in moral and nonmoral shame and guilt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(1), 138–159.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tadelis, S. (2007). The power of shame and the rationality of trust. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1006169.

  • Waldersee, R., & Luthans, F. (1994). The impact of positive and corrective feedback on customer service performance. Journal of Organization Behavior, 15, 83–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, L., & DeSteno, D. (2008). Pride and perseverance: The motivational role of pride. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(6), 1007–1017.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, 40th Anniversary conference, Yale University, November 14–15, 2008 and at the Fall Workshop on Political Psychology at Columbia University, October 25, 2008. I thank participants at both meetings, the editors and anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. I am especially grateful to Donald Green for invaluable feedback and support.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Costas Panagopoulos.

Appendix 1: Treatments Details

Appendix 1: Treatments Details

[Pride Treatment Example: Holland, MI]

WHO VOTES IS PUBLIC INFORMATION!

Dear registered voter:

On November 6, 2007, an election to select local leaders will be held in the city of Holland, MI.

As a registered voter, you are eligible to vote in this election. We urge you to exercise your civic duty and vote on November 6th.

We also remind you that who votes is a matter of public record.

To honor those who take time to vote in the upcoming election, we will obtain a complete list of registered voters who cast ballots on Election Day from local election officials in Holland and publish their names in the local newspaper.

The names of voters who did not vote will not be published because only voters deserve special recognition.

DO YOUR CIVIC DUTY! VOTE ON ELECTION DAY!

[Shame Treatment Example: Ely, IA]

WHO VOTES IS PUBLIC INFORMATION!

Dear registered voter:

On November 6, 2007, an election to select local leaders will be held in Ely, IA.

As a registered voter, you are eligible to vote in this election. We urge you to exercise your civic duty and vote on November 6th.

We also remind you that who votes is a matter of public record.

To promote participation in the election, we will obtain a complete list of registered voters who cast ballots on Election Day from local election officials. Shortly after the November 2007 election, we will publish in the local newspaper a complete list of all Ely registered voters who did not vote.

The names of those who took the time to vote will not appear on this list.

DO YOUR CIVIC DUTY! VOTE ON ELECTION DAY!

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Panagopoulos, C. Affect, Social Pressure and Prosocial Motivation: Field Experimental Evidence of the Mobilizing Effects of Pride, Shame and Publicizing Voting Behavior. Polit Behav 32, 369–386 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-010-9114-0

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-010-9114-0

Keywords

  • Social pressure
  • Voting
  • Field experiment
  • Pride
  • Shame
  • Emotions
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Public surveillance