Reposted from the Washington Post:
According to our colleague Ed O’Keefe, the doomsday e-mails are working. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has outraised its GOP counterpart by roughly $33 million this cycle, in part due to online contributions from the e-mails. But why do they work? We reached out to several psychologists to see what this tells us about the human psyche. In short, we’re a negatively inspired bunch.
“A variety of research has long shown that people are far more likely to take action to avoid negative events than to produce positive ones,” said Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine. “Loss is simply more impactful than gain. Loss can even cause trauma, which can permanently alter one’s life; there is no equivalent for gain. People know this intuitively, and so do the campaign managers and others whose job it is to manipulate the masses.”
University of Nebraska political science and psychology professor Ingrid Haas agreed that negative emotions are “very motivating” … “so something like anger might be most effective for getting people to take action or donate money.” But Haas said one way to rouse people with positive feelings is to use messages of “hope.” (Remember Obama 2008?) It’s difficult to sell a message that everything is great, so join the effort to help it stay great. But telling people that things aren’t as great as they could be, but there’s hope for the future could spur action, she said. It’s all about creating an emotional impact, said John Rooney, professor of psychology at La Salle University. People tend to be motivated more by how they’re feeling rather than by “their intellect,” he said. Rooney believes it’s less about the tone of the message and more about whether it will arouse emotions.