By Amanda Thomas
Cathedrals or government buildings could influence voting, a recent Baylor study showed.
Dr. Wade Rowatt, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, said this is called “priming.”
The study was called “Differences in Attitudes Toward Outgroups in Religious and Nonreligious Contexts in a Multinational Sample: A Situational Context Priming Study.”
“Priming is when something in the environment influences an emotion, thought or idea,” Rowatt said. “The presence of an American flag could increase someone’s patriotism.”
In the study, headed by Dr. Jordan LaBouff, priming was given a closer look when Baylor students and professors surveyed people outside of churches and government buildings.
LaBouff, a psychology lecturer at the Univeristy of Maine, was obtaining his doctorate at Baylor while conducting this study. LaBouff was also one of the professors who accompanied students on the Baylor in Maastricht study abroad program, where some of the research took place. Surveyors interviewed people near a cathedral and near a government building.
People were asked their opinion about various issues, such as gay and lesbian marriage. People surveyed in front of the different cathedrals responded with more conservative, religious attitudes, compared to people who were interviewed near government buildings. “The religious prime is the presence of the cathedral,” Rowatt said.
According to a press release, participants of the survey were diverse and multicultural — “Ninety-nine individuals from more than 30 countries.” Participants were surveyed outside the Basilica of Saint Servatius, Maastricht Town Hall, Westminster Abbey and Parliament. Each building was in a major public area.
The study has been published online in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, and furthers evidence that religious priming can influence both religious and non-religious people. Similar surveys have been done in the past. Stanford University conducted a study about school taxes, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2008.
Stanford looked at a case in which people voted on a funding referendum inside of a school building. The study showed that voters who were polled within the school supported a state tax increase, but those polled after voting in churches did not.
Other co-authors of the Baylor study included Meghan K. Johnson, a doctoral candidate, and Callie Frankle, a graduate student in global health at George Washington University.
The research was conducted by Baylor students in the Baylor in Maastricht Study Abroad program. Baylor psychologists analyzed the data.
LaBouff said the findings are significant because churches and other religiously affiliated buildings are among the most common polling places.
“We need to be aware of where decisions are made,” LaBouff said. “Context matters.”