The New York Times just published and article detailing how the Obama campaign convened a group of social scientists to help them apply their research to campaign tactics (see Academic ‘Dream Team’ Helped Obama’s Effort).

I’ve written in this blog, in my Helping Students Motivate Themselves book, and in its upcoming sequel, how to apply some of the same research to the classroom.

Here are a couple of examples…..

Obama volunteers also asked people if they had a plan to vote and if not, to make one, specifying a time, according to Stephen Shaw, a retired cancer researcher who knocked on doors in Nevada and Virginia in the days before the election. “One thing we’d say is that we know that when people have a plan, voting goes more smoothly,” he said.

Recent research has shown that making even a simple plan increases the likelihood that a person will follow through, Dr. Rogers, of Harvard, said.

In my lessons on self-control and on grit, students develop alternative plans — “If I feel like throwing a paper wad and Johnny, I’ll instead remember the time he helped me with my homework.”

Another technique some volunteers said they used was to inform supporters that others in their neighborhood were planning to vote. Again, recent research shows that this kind of message is much more likely to prompt people to vote than traditional campaign literature that emphasizes the negative — that many neighbors did not vote and thus lost an opportunity to make a difference.

This kind of approach trades on a human instinct to conform to social norms, psychologists say. In another well-known experiment, Dr. Cialdini and two colleagues tested how effective different messages were in getting hotel guests to reuse towels. The message “the majority of guests reuse their towels” prompted a 29 percent increase in reuse, compared with the usual message about helping the environment. The message “the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels” resulted in a 41 percent increase, he said.

One way I’ve applied this research is by putting a color label on the books in my classroom library that have been most popular over the years, and keeping the very most popular ones in a box behind my desk. Being able to truthfully tell my students that these have been popular in the past definitely makes them more interested in reading them.

Check out The Times’ article and leave a comment about if you have used the techniques it discusses in your classroom…