Manipulating behavior through identity

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
voting booth

you can't tell if I was here

The study asked 34 people:

How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?


How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?

Note the first is the “noun” or identity condition, and the second is the “verb” or behavior condition.

The results of the poll are not given. But guess who actually turned up to vote.

voting behavior


which shows that being asked about “being a voter” was associated with more voting than being asked about “voting.”

Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone here; identity over behavior wins every time.

This research shows that people’s desire to shape their own identities can be harnessed to motivate behavior.

There are some problems with small sample size and even perhaps selection bias, but…

The truly interesting thing about this is not that it motivated people to vote, but that it motivated people to vote even when they could simply lie.  “Of course I voted,” he says at Thanksgiving, “it was really important to be a voter in this election.”  Who would know?

So in this case, an external behavior was influenced that could easily be faked, that no one could check, and that would likely receive no external reinforcement/reward different than what could be obtained by lying.

The influence was truly internal, not a social pressure, not something that was equally satisfying if lied about. 

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2 Responses to Manipulating behavior through identity

  1. sellyourkingdom says:

    So, is it easier to lie (to yourself and others) about something you do rather than what you view yourself?

  2. Eric Lutzuk says:

    Interesting study and I would like to see it conducted on a larger scale. This is a bit of a leap but it seems to sugget some empirical evidence for the workings of Althusserian ideological “interpolation” as playing a role in determining people’s behaviour. It also brings to mind thoughts of Habermas and companys concerns about how consumerism erodes the functioning of democracy by couching peoples identities in things other then being a citizen i.e. a voter. I would be interested in seeing cross cultural studies of voter turnouts to see if there would be any correlation between their identifiying as voters and the number of people who make it to the polls.