Uncommon Knowledge

Heartbreak is worse for conservatives

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

When the right gets left

Liberals are supposed to be the tenderhearted ones. But new research suggests that conservatives may actually be more easily heartbroken, both in their expectations and in reality. When people were asked to imagine how they would feel after getting a good or bad reaction from a romantic partner, conservatives imagined they’d feel worse than liberals after a bad reaction—with no difference between conservatives and liberals after a good reaction. Likewise, students who were more conservative expected to feel worse after getting a lower grade on a test than expected—and they actually did feel worse if they got a lower grade than expected. Again, there was no difference for beating expectations. This phenomenon may explain why “conservatives, when imagining the pros and cons of deviating from the tried and true, see the potential drawbacks as more emotionally damaging than they see the potential benefits as delightful.”

 Joel, S. et al., “Conservatives Anticipate and Experience Stronger Emotional Reactions to Negative Outcomes than Liberals,” Journal of Personality (forthcoming).

Great at multitasking? Think again

In this busy age, many of us are proud multitaskers. This can be harmless, as in watching TV while surfing the Internet, but it can also be dangerous, as in texting while driving. Now, psychologists at the University of Utah have found that the very people who tend to multitask the most are also the least competent at it. Not only did those who thought they were better multitaskers score no higher on a test of multitasking ability, but those who actually engaged in more multitasking—including cellphone use while driving—showed less multitasking ability. These high multitaskers also scored high on disinhibition and attentional impulsiveness.

Sanbonmatsu, D. et al., “Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation Seeking,” PLoS ONE (January 2013).

Rich reps: Don’t tax me!

While partisan ideology seems to be paramount in determining a politician’s vote these days, don’t ignore the role played by naked self-interest. In a new analysis, political scientists found that wealthier congressmen were more likely to vote for, and cosponsor, legislation limiting the estate tax, even controlling for party affiliation, antitax ideology, age, and constituency characteristics. This effect was especially pronounced for congressmen whose wealth was close to the $1 million threshold, which also happened to be the status-quo threshold for estate-tax liability.

Griffin, J. & Anewalt-Remsburg, C., “Legislator Wealth and the Effort to Repeal the Estate Tax,” American Politics Research (forthcoming).

How to demotivate white people


One of President Obama’s overarching themes is the need for Americans to work together. However, new research at Stanford finds that such rhetoric may actually be de-motivating—at least for European-Americans. In one experiment, European-Americans persisted less on a challenging puzzle after being exposed to words that evoked interdependence compared to independence. In another experiment, European-Americans exerted less physical effort after being instructed to think of themselves as an interdependent compared to an independent person. European-Americans were also less motivated to take a course on environmental sustainability if the course website emphasized an interdependent experience. None of these effects applied to Asian-Americans, whose cultural heritage is more characterized by norms of interdependence. The authors conclude: “In the land of the free, motivating Americans to take action for today’s pressing societal challenges will be accomplished most effectively when people are encouraged to ‘take charge’ rather than to ‘work together.’”

Hamedani, M. et al., “In the Land of the Free, Interdependent Action Undermines Motivation,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

When affirmative action ends

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One concern of proponents of affirmative action has been that, without such policies, underrepresented minorities will not only be less likely to be admitted to selective colleges but that, if admitted, they’ll be discouraged from enrolling because they’ll perceive a less welcoming college environment. Analysis of data on all freshman applicants and enrollees at the University of California campuses around the time of Proposition 209—which banned affirmative action—reveals that there was instead a modest increase in the relative enrollment rates of underrepresented minorities, especially at the most selective campuses. This wasn’t explained “by changes in the selection of students who applied to the UC, changes in financial aid or changes in minorities’ college opportunities outside the UC system,” but appears to reflect the appeal of the more meritocratic signal afforded by admission to colleges that don’t use affirmative action.

Antonovics, K. & Sander, R., “Affirmative Action Bans and the ‘Chilling Effect,’” American Law and Economics Review (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
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