Why Minghella got it right

It may have attracted derisory sniggers from the media, but Anthony Minghella’s short ‘romantic film‘ starring Messrs. Blair and Brown was probably worth it – a new study shows that political adverts accompanied by moody music and lighting really are more effective.

Against the backdrop of the 1998 election for the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, Ted Brader at the University of Michigan recruited 286 volunteers ostensibly to participate in research into TV news. Participants watched a real 30-minute news programme into which Brader had embedded a carefully-designed political broadcast, either in favour or against one of the opposing candidates. Brader wanted to see whether adding moody music, lighting and images to an advert would have some extra effect on viewers even if the script were identical. So whereas some of his volunteers saw a positive advert with no music and set outside a local government building, others saw a version with uplifting music and colourful images of children playing. Similarly with the negative advert – some saw it with tense discordant music and black and white images of drug use, whereas others saw a neutral version.

Questioned afterwards, those participants who’d seen the positive advert with uplifting music reported being more interested in the election than those who’d seen the positive, unemotional version. They were also 29 per cent more likely to say they planned to vote, and were more likely to base their choice of candidate on their pre-existing preferences, rather than on topical issues.

The negative adverts – with or without emotive effects added – had no influence on people’s stated intention to vote. But whereas the positive advert entrenched people’s current beliefs, the addition of music and provocative images to the negative advert had the opposite effect, making people more likely to choose their candidate based on topical issues.

“Until now, we lacked hard evidence on whether emotions in general are an important part of political advertising.”, Brader’s report concludes, “.this study confirms what some observers long held on faith”.

Brader, T. (2005). Striking a responsive chord: how political ads motivate and persuade voters by appealing to emotions. American Journal of Political Science, 49, 388-405.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.