Why the Obama Campaign Is Telling You About People Who Share Your Name

The Obama campaign’s use of behavioral science research is well known, but in a campaign email last night they broke out a previously undiscussed gambit:

Friend —

This is cool:

You can see exactly how many people named the same as you have already voted.

Take a look at that. Then share it with your friends so they can see how many people with their names have voted, too — and look up their polling place.

Why in the world should people with the same name as you matter? The answer comes from a recent paper by Francesca Gino and Adam Galinsky (pdf) on the connection between feelings of “psychological closeness” and your moral compass. In a series of four experiments they found that feeling psychologically close to somebody who behaves selfishly or dishonestly makes you more likely to behave selfishly and dishonestly. Alternatively, feeling close to somebody who acts generously can make you more generous. They concluded that the morality of the actions of somebody you feel “close” to can sway the morality of your own actions.

What makes the findings relavent to a political campaign is that it doesn’t take a whole lot to feel “psychologically close” to somebody. In one of their experiments Gino and Galinsky established closeness by making participants think a confederate had a similar birthday, and as they point out, previous research has shown that you can feel psychologically close to somebody simply because they share your name. It would seem the Obama campaign’s hope is that you’ll feel psychologically close to the voters who share your name, and because voting is generally seen as a morally admirable thing to do, this closeness will make you more likely to follow their moral actions and vote.

Will it have an earth-shattering effect? Probably not. But the campaign’s strategy of throwing a bunch of nudges at the wall and seeing what sticks is smart and at the margin it could have an impact.

Update: Here’s a take on a slightly different nudge in the same email.
Gino, F., & Galinsky, A. (2012). Vicarious dishonesty: When psychological closeness creates distance from one’s moral compass Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 119 (1), 15-26 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.03.011

Pelham, B., Carvallo, M., & Jones, J. (2005). Implicit Egotism Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (2), 106-110 DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00344.x


One Response to Why the Obama Campaign Is Telling You About People Who Share Your Name

  1. Pingback: How Your Social Status Influences the Way You're Judged - Peer-reviewed by my neurons | Peer-reviewed by my neurons

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