Getting Lazy People Like Me To Vote Through 3 Principles In Behavioral Psychology

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Below is the typed version of my speech for Toast Masters this past week; focusing on three principles on behavioral psychology. I hope you enjoy.


I did not vote in 2016. This is embarrassing, but true. I didn’t particularly like either candidate and rationalized not getting out there despite my folks nagging me. For my research project I have been learning more about behavioral psychology through books like Nudge and Thinking Fast & Slow. Today I am here to talk about their application. Specifically, if you have any kids or lazy friends, who, like me, did not get out and vote – you can use these as tools to help get them out there for the next one.

I am going to tell you about three principles in behavioral psychology: loss aversion, regression to the mean (conformity), and feedback.

The first principle to get to know is loss aversion, which means that people have a stronger desire not to lose then they do to gain. What does this mean?

One experiment done with students, as presented in Nudge, summarizes this nicely. In the experiment the students were given a mug with their university logo on it, and then invited to sell the mug to students who did not have one. This experiment has been replicated thousands of times, and students selling the mug typically ask for twice the price as the buyers – they don’t want to lose their mugs!

Another important concept around loss aversion is how we frame statements. One experiment presented in Nudge suggested that when two groups were told either they will a) save $350 by doing x or b) lose $350 by following by not doing x – the group that was told they would lose the money were more likely to adhere.

So how can this all pertain to voting? Often the argument is framed as “our ancestors fought to get you this right to vote.” Consider framing this as a loss: “by not voting you are losing out on your rights.”

That is a little about how people don’t like to lose, now we will turn our sights to when people look to fit in.

Humans are easily nudged by other humans. Have you ever noticed a group of people who hang out together are all dressed the same? Or maybe a group of folks who end up using similar language?

You may have heard the saying that “you are the average of the people you spend the most time with”. It turns out that two studies show that both Obesity (2007, Christakis & Fowler) and Academic performance (2001 Sacerdote) are contagious. Meaning, if you had a roommate who performed well in school or was a certain fitness level – you are more likely to move closer to their performance and level of health.

This doesn’t just happen with college students. Another 2006 study done by Cass Sunstein showed that conformity effects federal judges as well. This study showed that if one conservative judge was with 2 liberal judges they were more likely to vote closer to their peers, and vice versa.

If you want your kids to vote, don’t tell them how many people that are NOT voting. Tell them how many people are and let them conform to the rest.

Many of our biggest decisions in life don’t get any feedback because we make them so infrequently. Such as mortgage rates, where you go to school, and your retirement contributions – just to name a few. When you’re shooting a basketball, you get to see where the ball goes and adjust accordingly. Imagine if you were shooting in the dark and never find out how your shot went.

A good example of appropriate feedback driving behavior is the battery life on your phones. When it is running low, it changes colors – indicating it needs to be plugged in.

When people know how energy efficient they are being they will take immediate action. Another 2007 study by Thompson experimented with an ambient orb that would be red or green based on how energy efficient the house was. They found this was much more effective than just sending the bill to the customer. Consider recapping performance of key areas your kid is interested in so they have feedback on what matters to them most.


Understanding behavioral psychology can be critical in understanding how we & others make decisions. Three principles we can use to get drive votes, or anything else, is loss aversion, regression to the mean, and feedback.

Make sure your kid is not lazy like I was. Use these principles to get them out there to vote!


Below is the outline I used on an index card for this speech:

  • Election
  • Loss aversion, regression to the mean, feedback
    • Loss aversion
      • Mugs
      • Framing
    • Regression to the mean
      • Company you keep
      • Obesity & Academics
      • Federal Judges
    • Feedback
      • Basketball
      • Battery life
      • Ambient orb
    • Recap
    • Close

Vote by OliM from the Noun Project

 

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