Negative or Positive Ads

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Updated on Feb 05, 2012

Grade Level: 7th -12th; Type: Psychology


Determine whether people are more likely to be swayed by a positive ad or by a negative ad.

The purpose of this experiment is to learn whether positive or negative ads have a more powerful effect on human behavior by putting on a fake campaign.

  • What are the different strategies that people use to try to influence voters?
  • What is propaganda?
  • How is propaganda used in a campaign?
  • What is the most important decision maker according to most voters?
  • What factors are the most likely to influence voters according to psychologists?

Political campaigns are carefully designed to try to convince the most number of voters to vote for a certain candidate. While the campaign’s primary goal is to get more votes for that campaign’s candidate, the secondary goal of any successful campaign is to try to persuade people not to vote for the opposing candidate. In heated campaigns, this persuasion can turn ugly, transforming into smear campaigns that attempt to make the opposition look as terrible as possible. Sometimes, campaigns get so caught up in the negative that very few ads highlighting the positive aspects of one candidate are given. Understanding how people respond to different types of ads helps campaign planners make decisions about what type of ads to run and at what percentage.

  • Poster board
  • Markers
  • (optional) Video camera
  • (optional) A friend to help
  • A group of volunteers to act as the voters

  1. You will work with four fictional candidates that will run against each other in two different elections. The candidates named, “Candidate 1,” and “Candidate 2” who will run for “Leadership Position” and those named “Candidate A” and “Candidate B” will run for “Organizer.” Naming your positions and candidates in this way will remove name or gender bias from the equation.
  2. In the first election, Candidate 1 will use only negative ads against Candidate 2.
  3. In this same election, Candidate 2 will use only positive ads for himself.
  4. In the second election, Candidate A will use 25% positive ads for himself and 75% negative ads against the Candidate B.
  5. In the second election, the Candidate B will use 75% positive ads for himself and 25% negative ads against the Candidate A.
  6. Create either 8 or 12 posters for each candidate. Make sure each of the posters is the same size and that each candidate has the same number of posters.
  7. Design your posters so that they have the proper number of positive and negative qualities. You may want to research popular tactics, or use campaigns that have happened in the real world.
  8. (optional) Have a friend help you video a campaign for each of the candidates, discussing their qualities in as neutral a tone as possible and following the same formula of positive and negative. Use seconds of video to determine the correct proportions.
  9. Hang the posters in your classroom or in a hallway and let the other students view them for about a week.
  10. (optional) Play the videos for your voters.
  11. Hold a fake election, having your classmates vote for their preferred candidate.
  12. The more voters you can get, the more accurate your results will be.
  13. Analyze the results to find out which candidates were the most popular.

Terms/Concepts: Campaign; Negative ad; Positive ad; Voter behavior; Influence; Propaganda


Writer and educator Crystal Beran is rarely seen without a pen. Her adventures have brought her to four continents and her quest for answers has led her to discover more questions than she could fill all the pages with. She currently resides in Northern California, where she can be found sipping tea and writing books.

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