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Uncommon Knoweldge

Hot and can’t be bothered

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Low and tough

By definition, people in disadvantaged groups experience more hardship and suffering in a society. But new research suggests that this experience may also cause a feedback loop, creating the impression that they’re hardier and don’t need relief. For example, the researchers found that black players on the NFL injury list were rated by team officials as more likely than white players to play in the next game, even controlling for the player’s experience, position, and injury type. (In the case of concussions, where standardized testing has been mandated, the groups were even.) Likewise, in a series of experiments, both white and black participants—and nurses—predicted that a black person would feel less pain than a white person in various situations. This was true even when the researchers presented participants with the same bi-racial face: If the person was described as black, he or she was expected to feel less pain. This bias wasn’t explained by racial prejudice per se, but rather by the stereotype of low-status people being hardier, as the effect of race disappeared when controlling for relative privilege and status.

Trawalter, S. et al., “Racial Bias in Perceptions of Others’ Pain,” PLoS ONE (November 2012).

What welfare does to health

To their defenders, welfare programs are a lifeline for the poor; to their critics, they’re dangerous for the dependency they breed in recipients. But what effects do they have on the next generation? A new analysis of the food stamp program by several economists finds that it significantly improved the health of adults—and the economic self-sufficiency of women—who were fetuses or young children when their families were exposed to the program. To make this connection, the economists compared people who grew up in different counties, given that the food stamp program was rolled out county by county during the 1960s and 1970s.

Hoynes, H. et al., “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net,” National Bureau of Economic Research (November 2012).

I ‘remember’ that

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Psychology has repeatedly shown that memory is far less reliable than we think it is, and now it appears our memories can be affected by our politics. A team of researchers analyzed a survey on Slate.com asking readers if they remembered a set of events, several of which were real and one of which was not. Half of readers said they remembered the fake event, and half of these people even remembered seeing it happen on the news. Moreover, the misremembering was partisan: Liberals were much more likely to remember an unflattering bogus story about George W. Bush, while conservatives were more likely to remember one about Barack Obama. There were a couple of other intriguing results: Conservatives remembered fewer of the real events, and people who remembered more real events also remembered more fake events.

Frenda, S. et al., “False Memories of Fabricated Political Events,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Maybe it’s just childhood

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is an official psychiatric diagnosis, yet to many people, its symptoms also sound like normal childhood behavior, so there’s a lot of skepticism about how widespread it really is, and how aggressively it should be treated with drugs. Supporting some of this skepticism, researchers have found that even the normal variation in age in classrooms makes a big difference. Not only do the youngest kids score lower on math and language tests than the oldest kids in the same grade, but the youngest kids are also significantly more likely to be prescribed stimulants for ADHD.

Zoëga, H. et al., “Age, Academic Performance, and Stimulant Prescribing for ADHD: A Nationwide Cohort Study,” Pediatrics (forthcoming).

Hot and can’t be bothered

Are you turning the heat up too high? According to a recent study, it’s a simple-minded mistake for more than one reason. People in rooms that were 77 degrees were more cognitively depleted, especially when confronted with complex decisions, compared to people in rooms that were 67 degrees. An analysis of lottery sales throughout the year in St. Louis also revealed that purchases were down on hotter days, especially for more complicated gambles. Not only do these findings suggest that office managers and retailers should be minding the thermostat (and perhaps pointing it in different directions!), but the authors of the study note that this effect may explain different economic behavior at different latitudes.

Cheema, A. & Patrick, V., “Influence of Warm versus Cool Temperatures on Consumer Choice: A Resource Depletion Account,” Journal of Marketing Research (December 2012).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.

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