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Uncommon Knowledge

Porn, friend to marriage equality

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

The limits of Cheney’s power

Kevin golden/Globe staff

Vice President Dick Cheney’s reputation as the real power in the Bush administration led to his caricature as Darth Vader—an image driven partly by the perception that he was steering business to companies he had been associated with previously. However, a recent analysis suggests these fears were overblown: In fact, “the stock market returns of companies with personal connections to Cheney” revealed that “in all cases, the value of ties to Cheney is precisely estimated as zero.” For example, the authors note that “while Halliburton’s stock price appreciated considerably in the years following the Iraq invasion, so did those of every other firm in Halliburton’s industry.”

Fisman, D. et al., “Estimating the Value of Connections to Vice-President Cheney,” B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy (December 2012).

Scarcity hits us differently

When times get hard, do you hunker down and save, or start living for the moment? It might depend on the economic conditions in which you grew up. Based on a new study, exposure to recessionary images or words appears to activate a live-for-the-here-and-now mindset among people who grew up poor. After seeing images or reading a newspaper article evoking tough economic times, people who grew up with a lower socioeconomic status sought more immediate rewards, took greater risks, and were more attracted to luxury items, whereas the opposite pattern was manifested in people who grew up with a higher socioeconomic status. Otherwise, “when participants did not experience immediate proximate cues to economic uncertainty, few differences were found between people who grew up feeling relatively resource deprived and those who did not.”

Griskevicius, V. et al., “When the Economy Falters, Do People Spend or Save? Responses to Resource Scarcity Depend on Childhood Environments,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Does your teen have ‘relationship churn’?

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If your kids are in their teens or twenties, be on the lookout for a pattern of relationship churning—breaking up and getting back together with the same partner. Based on a survey of 17- to 24-year-olds in the Toledo, Ohio, area, researchers found that churning was quite common—experienced by around 40 percent of the sample—and that churning relationships were significantly more likely to involve physical and verbal abuse, compared to relationships that were stably together or stably broken up, even controlling for other demographic, personal, and relationship factors.

Halpern-Meekin, S. et al., “Relationship Churning, Physical Violence, and Verbal Abuse in Young Adult Relationships,” Journal of Marriage and Family (February 2013).

Porn, friend to marriage equality

How does consuming pornography change people? Oddly enough, one effect is apparently to shift their position on a major political issue: same-sex marriage. Controlling for age, race, political affiliation, and attitude toward same-sex marriage in 2006, men who reported viewing more pornography in 2008 were more likely to support same-sex marriage in 2010. This effect was only observed among less educated men. The reverse effect (attitude toward same-sex
marriage predicting pornography viewing) was not observed.

Wright, P. & Randall, A., “Pornography Consumption, Education, and Support for Same-Sex Marriage among Adult U.S. Males,” Communication Research (forthcoming).

The female lawyer effect

More women are entering the upper echelons of the legal profession, but does their gender make a difference once they get there? A recent study examined the votes of judges in the US Courts of Appeals in cases where opposing counsel at oral argument was not the same gender. Female attorneys had a “substantively significant” advantage in winning judges’ votes. The major exception was in cases where the court ultimately reversed the lower court decision. Women’s overall advantage was not associated with the gender of the judge, the gender composition among the judges, or the number of times a judge had worked with female peers. In explaining this advantage, the authors of the study speculate that “a judge might expect that a female appellate litigator must have worked harder to have the opportunity and, therefore, might be more qualified.”

Szmer, J. et al., “The Impact of Attorney Gender on Decision Making in the United States Courts of Appeals,” Journal of Women, Politics & Policy (Winter 2013).

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