Scottish Independence: No voters scared of spiders

No voters are more likely to be scared of spiders. Picture: Montage

No voters are more likely to be scared of spiders. Picture: Montage

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PEOPLE who are scared of spiders are more likely to vote no in the Independence Referendum, according to a study.

Psychologists believe people’s choices are more driven by physical reactions to fear than by rational consideration of issues.

And the more risk averse people are the more likely they will be to vote no.

A study for BBC Scotland documentary “Mind Games”, to be shown tomorrow, shows that people who react strongly to a photo of a spider also react more strongly against the idea of independence.

Dr Rob Johns, an expert in political behaviour at the University of Essex, says: “There is something very strange in the idea that the way people react to a photograph of a spider should influence the way people vote in a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future, but that is increasingly the way that psychologists understand we make our decisions.

“The in-born or early-nurture things that structure our choices in all sorts of areas are also the basis on which we tend to make our political decisions.”

A group of people were shown a photograph of a tarantula on a woman’s face and asked to rate their reaction from one - “doesn’t bother me” - to 10, “utterly disgusted”.

They were also asked to vote yes or no to Scottish independence.

Dr Johns said: “What we are looking to see is whether those people who are towards the utterly disgusted end of this scale are also more likely to stick with the status quo, and whether those who can take this in their stride will also take independence and the risks that it brings in their stride as well.”

Those who voted yes to independence in the study scored an average of between four and five on the fear scale while those who voted no scored a much higher average of over seven.

Dr Johns said: “That’s exactly as we would have expected.

“Consistent with the expectations, the nos are those who are much more reactive to ‘this makes me react strongly’ and so they are also the kind of people who will stick with the constitutional status quo.

“Everybody reacts a bit to these unpleasant photos but the yeses are much more ‘I can take this in my stride’ as it seems they can with the idea of independence as well.”

He added: “This is not what the forefathers of democracy had in mind, that people would be driven not by rational consideration of the issues but by how much they react physically to fear.

“But psychologists are now increasingly convinced this is how we make decisions in a whole range of spheres of life, including politics.

“It is kind of weird that those who react more strongly to a photo of a spider are also reacting more strongly to the idea of independence, but that’s how it works.”

The hour long documentary examines the way in which psychological techniques are used by both campaigns to influence how people will make up their minds ahead of the vote.

James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy at Edinburgh University, said: “It’s very much a campaign of hope - because none of us really know what would happen in the event of a yes or indeed no vote – against fear.

“I don’t think we’ve ever really seen a campaign quite as starkly presented as hope versus fear as we have in this referendum.”

Prof David P. Redlawsk of Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, said: “We are emotional beings. Emotions drive much of what we do and if we think about politics, it really is about emotions.

“Research I’ve done shows that people who try to pay too much attention to the facts actually often to a worse job in making a decision than those who go with a sense of a gut feeling.”

• Mind Games is on BBC Two Scotland, Tuesday at 9pm