Give me power, Superman
Think twice before you make fun of that geeky kid reading superhero comics on the bus—he actually may be tapping into the superheroes’ powers. Psychologists at the University of Buffalo presented male students with pictures of a muscular or nonmuscular Batman or Spiderman. After seeing a muscular superhero, those who were fans of that particular superhero felt better about their bodies and exhibited more hand-grip strength than those weren’t fans. Meanwhile, those who saw one
superhero but were fans of the other one were boosted by seeing the nonmuscular version of the superhero they weren’t
Young, A. et al., “Batman to the Rescue! The Protective Effects of Parasocial Relationships with Muscular Superheroes on Men’s Body Image,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).
Fitting the facts to your judgment
When we make moral judgments, we may think we base those on the facts—but it turns out that we also reimagine the facts according to our moral judgments. For example, if you think it’s justifiable to push someone in front of a train to save other people, you probably also think this action is more likely to stop the train and cause less pain for the pushed person. Likewise, reading a pro-capital punishment essay not only produced more support for capital punishment but also made people more likely to believe that capital punishment deters crime and doesn’t lead to miscarriages of justice. Such wishful thinking was strongest among those with greater moral convictions, among those who felt more informed about the issue, and among political conservatives.
Liu, B. & Ditto, P., “What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).
Don’t gamble with a chimp
If you thought “Planet of the Apes” was just fiction, guess again: In certain cognitive tasks, at least, chimps appear to have us beat. Researchers pitted chimps against other chimps in simple games, where winning each round was rewarded with a piece of food. The researchers also pitted humans against other humans, where winning each round was rewarded with a coin. It turns out that the chimps’ decisions were actually very close to what game theory said were the best strategies, and, in fact, hewed closer than humans’ decisions. The researchers speculate that “some human cognitive ability inherited from chimpanzee kin may have been displaced by dramatic growth in the human neural capacity for language (and perhaps associated skills). As a result, chimpanzees retained the ability, slightly superior to humans, to adjust strategy competitively and in unpredictable ways.”
Martin, C. et al., “Experienced Chimpanzees Behave More Game-Theoretically Than Humans in Simple Competitive Interactions,” California Institute of Technology (April 2012).
Righties, lefties, and stuckies
Are you a nimble decision-maker? If so, then you’re less likely to be ambidextrous. New research finds that more ambidextrous individuals exhibit more inertia in their decision-making. Specifically, they’re more inclined to pass up an opportunity after having missed another opportunity, and they’re more inclined to push on with a course of action in the face of discouraging news. Previous studies have shown that, since ambidextrousness arises out of greater interaction between the two sides of the brain, it’s associated with different ways of thinking.
Westfall, J. et al., “Inaction Inertia, the Sunk Cost Effect, and Handedness: Avoiding the Losses of Past Decisions,” Brain and Cognition (November 2012).
As much as we’d like to think we control our economic fortunes, we’re also indebted to accidents of history—and geology. A new economic analysis finds that cities located near mines in 1900 cultivated larger companies in both mining and nonmining industries throughout the 20th century. However, this big-company legacy of mining had the downside of suppressing a city’s entrepreneurship and, ultimately, its economic growth up through the end of the 20th century.
Glaeser, E. et al., “Entrepreneurship and Urban Growth: An Empirical Assessment with Historical Mines,” National Bureau of Economic Research (August 2012).
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