Voters on Election Day not only hold the fate of democracy in their hands when they step into the voting booths. Casting a ballot can also have subtle effects on the health and behavior of voters — at times with profound consequences.
Campaigns can be physically taxing for candidates, but voters as well can be stressed out by elections, according to a study released last year.
Last July, scientists from the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University in Israel found increased levels of the hormone cortisol, which is released when a person is under stress, just before casting a vote. According to one of the researchers, this unexpected physical and emotional reaction when in the voting booth could influence a voter's decision.
The weight of an impending choice may be a stressful event for some voters. Upon leaving the voting booth, however, exercising the right to vote can promote mental and physical health, according to a CBS News report from 2004. Voting itself won't necessarily lower blood pressure, as the researchers note. Performing a civic duty like voting rather is an act of community involvement, which has been shown to promote psychological health.
Coming up short in a hard-fought election would be disappointing to any candidate. But according to a study from researchers at Duke University and the University of Michigan, supporters of the losing party may also exhibit psychological and physical responses to a defeat.
The study, conducted during the 2008 presidential election, determined that male backers of losing candidates experienced a significant drop in testosterone levels in less than one hour of the announcement of the vote outcome. As noted in the press release, researchers found these voters were "more unhappy, submissive, unpleasant and controlled" based on a post-election questionnaire. Female supporters did not experience a similar change in hormonal levels. Similarly, voters who backed the victor did not show a boost in testosterone levels.
A victory may not have an effect on testosterone levels for voters who pick the winning side. Rutgers University researchers found an increase in searches for Internet pornography following an election result, according to researchers at Rutgers University.
Using Google Trends, researchers found that states that backed winning candidates showed an increase in the number of search requests for sexually explicit content, as reported by LiveScience.com. This trend was seen in both the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
If you plan on hitting the road on Election Day, be sure to wear your seat belt.
According to study by researchers from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Stanford University, fatal car crashes are 18 percent more likely on Election Day than on any other day when polls aren't open. Researchers cite a number of reasons for this trend, including "emotions, unfamiliar pathways traveling to polls, and the potential mobilization of unfit drivers."
The average presidential election leads to around 24 traffic deaths, according to the study's authors.
In 2010, a study published in the Social Science Quarterly examined suicide rates following state elections between 1981 and 2005. Researchers found that when a majority of a state's electorate picked a winner, the state's suicide rate decreased. At the same time, when a majority picks a loser, the state's suicide rate also decreases.
Richard Dunn, lead author of the study, attributes the effect to social cohesion, with voters within the same community holding the same beliefs sharing the experience no matter what the result. Voters who live in communities where their beliefs are not shared feel more isolated, no matter what the result.
Photo credit: Corbis Images