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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Uncommon Knowledge

It’s cold when you’re lonely

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

I’m cute—don’t tax me!

When the going gets tough, hot guys fight economic redistribution. Psychologists from Arizona State University found that after being put in a recessionary frame of mind, men who considered themselves attractive became significantly more opposed to the redistribution of wealth. In contrast, men who considered themselves unattractive responded to being put in a recessionary state of mind by becoming significantly more supportive of redistribution. There were no such effects for women, for social issues like abortion and gay marriage, or when the recession was portrayed as hurting women but not men, and the effects were not explained by differences in socioeconomic status. The pattern also appeared in Congress: In districts with high unemployment, attractive congressmen were more economically conservative than unattractive congressmen.

White, A. et al., “From the Bedroom to the Budget Deficit: Mate Competition Changes Men’s Attitudes toward Economic Redistribution,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Overconfidence: totally effective

Are you the smartest person in the room? Even if you’re not, it seems there’s no harm in thinking of yourself that way. In several experiments, people who were overconfident were not only perceived to have higher ability, status, and influence early on during a group activity, but the social value of overconfidence was not reversed even after actual ability was revealed to be mediocre. This may explain why there’s so much overconfidence in the world, especially in business and government.

Kennedy, J. et al., “When Overconfidence Is Revealed to Others: Testing the Status-Enhancement Theory of Overconfidence,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (November 2013).

Why you vote like your neighbors

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We’re divided into red and blue states, but as time goes by, we are also dividing into red and blue neighborhoods. A recent analysis of the geographic distribution of party registration and voting in California confirms that Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly segregated from each other.

Sussell, J., “New Support for the Big Sort Hypothesis: An Assessment of Partisan Geographic Sorting in California, 1992–2010,” PS: Political Science & Politics (October 2013).

Quants rule, even in the jungle

The next time you hear a child complain about having to learn math, you can point out that it pays off—even in the jungle. Research on an Amazonian tribe that has limited contact with civilization and limited use of numbers in their culture (including not knowing age) revealed that the ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divide was nevertheless associated with the acquisition of goods, wealth, and health. The value of math did not differ by proximity to civilization or fluency in Spanish (the language of the surrounding civilization).

Undurraga, E. et al., “Math Skills and Market and Non-Market Outcomes: Evidence from an Amazonian Society of Forager-Farmers,” Economics of Education Review (forthcoming).

It’s cold when you’re lonely

Recent research has uncovered a psychological overlap between physical warmth and social warmth. A new study shows that this extends to consumer judgment. People eating alone in a food court at a shopping mall estimated a lower ambient temperature than those eating with someone else. Conversely, people suggested more social functions for a robot-maid prototype after drinking a cold, rather than hot, cup of tea. In the same spirit, people in a cold room were more interested in a movie coupon for two, whereas people in a warm room were more interested in a movie coupon for one.

Lee, S.-H. et al., “Embodied Cognition and Social Consumption: Self-Regulating Temperature through Social Products and Behaviors,” Journal of Consumer Psychology (forthcoming).

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

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