Young adults’ psychological and physiological reactions to the 2016 U.S. presidential election

Elections present unique opportunities to study how sociopolitical events influence individual processes. The current study by Norton School Family Studies and Human Development Faculty Dr. Katie Zeiders and her colleagues examined 286 young adults’ mood and diurnal cortisol responses to the 2016 U.S. presidential election in real-time: two days before the election, election night, and two days after the election of Donald Trump, with the goal of understanding whether (and the extent to which) the election influenced young adults’ affective and biological states.

Utilizing piecewise trajectory analyses, they observed high, and increasing, negative affect leading up to the election across all participants. Young adults who had negative perceptions of Trump’s ability to fulfill the role of president and/or were part of a non-dominant social group (i.e., women, ethnic/racial minority young adults) reported increased signs of stress before the election and on election night. After the election, they observed a general “recovery” in self-reported mood; however, diurnal cortisol indicators suggested that there was an increase in biological stress among some groups. Overall, findings underscore the role of macro-level factors in individuals’ health and well-being via more proximal attitudes and physiological functioning.

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