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    Uncommon Knowledge

    Only the good can buy elections

    And more surprising insights from the social sciences

    Uh-oh, the boss is a dad

    The next time a company offers you a job, be sure to ask about the CEO’s kids. Analyzing a comprehensive database of firms and workers—including their families and wages—in Denmark, several business school professors “found robust empirical evidence not only that a male CEO generally pays his employees less generously after fathering a child, but also that this effect is moderated by the gender of the child as well as that of the employee.” Sons, especially after the first, are associated with lower employee wages, especially for male employees, but higher wages for the CEO himself. Only the first daughter is associated with higher wages for both male and female employees.

    Dahl, M. et al., “Fatherhood and Managerial Style: How a Male CEO’s Children Affect the Wages of His Employees,” Administrative Science Quarterly (forthcoming).

    Anxiety makes us moral

    Lorazepam is a widely prescribed anti-anxiety drug, similar to Valium. Like any drug, it can have serious side effects—but one little-known one ­arises directly from its intended function of reducing anxiety. Researchers suspect that anxiety may be an important component of moral judgment, so they administered lorazepam to healthy volunteers and asked them to make various moral judgments. Increasing doses of lorazepam, compared to a placebo, made subjects “more willing to harm people directly whether or not that harm is for the greater good.” It had no effect on willingness to harm people indirectly or in nonmoral scenarios.

    Perkins, A. et al., “A Dose of Ruthlessness: Interpersonal Moral Judgment Is Hardened by the Anti-Anxiety Drug Lorazepam,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (forthcoming).

    Only the good can buy elections

    We’ve just passed through another monstrously expensive election. But do dollars lead directly to victory? If campaign spending does have a direct effect on votes, then the source of that money—other people or the candidate herself—shouldn’t matter. But an analysis of gubernatorial elections by a political science professor at Brigham Young University finds that the source does matter: Other people’s money was correlated with votes, self-financing was not. In other words, the key isn’t how much money is spent, but the underlying quality of the candidate, which drives both fund-raising and votes.

    Brown, A., “Does Money Buy Votes? The Case of Self-Financed Gubernatorial Candidates, 1998–2008,” Political Behavior (forthcoming).

    How we use uptalk?


    A lot of Americans now give an intonation to sentences that makes them sound like questions? It’s called “uptalk”? On the game show “Jeopardy!,” contestants are supposed to phrase their responses in the form of a question, but there’s no requirement on intonation. A sociology professor at The College of William & Mary decided to analyze how contestants vary in their use of uptalk. Confirming that uptalk conveys uncertainty, uptalk is twice as likely to be used in a response that turns out to be incorrect. Women, especially younger and higher-scoring women, are more likely to use uptalk than men, suggesting that “women are engaging in a compensatory strategy in order to perform their gender ‘correctly.’” Men also perform according to their gender; they increase uptalk against female opponents, especially when following up on a woman’s incorrect response, as a kind of chivalrous display of uncertainty. The demographic group with the lowest rate of uptalk: black women.

    Linneman, T., “Gender in Jeopardy! Intonation Variation on a Television Game Show,” Gender & Society (forthcoming).

    Sex, powered by penicillin

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    Conventional wisdom is that the sexual revolution began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, an economics professor at Emory University finds that it really began in the 1950s, after the antibiotic penicillin had conquered the syphilis epidemic, at which point “risky non-traditional sexual behaviors—as measured by the gonorrhea rate, illegitimate birth ratio, and teen birth share—began to rise.” Alternative explanations, like changes in contraception or abortion or cultural values, don’t fit the data on sexual behavior as well.

    Francis, A., “The Wages of Sin: How the Discovery of Penicillin Reshaped Modern Sexuality,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (forthcoming).

    Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at