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Uncommon Knowledge

Be creative—like a criminal

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Yes, we are very powerful

Royalty may have faded in the 21st century, but the “royal we” seems to be alive and well. In an analysis of spoken and written communications in several different contexts, researchers found that individuals with more power or status used fewer first-person singular pronouns. Instead, they were more inclined to use first-person plural (“we”) or second-person singular (“you”) pronouns.

 Kacewicz, E. et al., “Pronoun Use Reflects Standings in Social Hierarchies,” Journal of Language and Social Psychology (March 2014).

When Keisha goes to Harvard

In the last two elections, America went for a black president with a Harvard degree. But how do black candidates fare compared with whites in the regular job market? A recent study suggests they face substantial hurdles—even with a top-notch education. A sociologist sent out fake resumes in response to hundreds of job postings. Candidates with first names common among blacks—especially lower-class blacks—got significantly fewer responses and, when there was a response, it was more likely to be for a job with lower pay and prestige. Graduates of elite colleges were not immune: A black candidate from an elite college got about the same level of response as a white candidate from a second-tier college.

 Gaddis, M., “Discrimination in the Credential Society: An Audit Study of Race, Social Class, and College Selectivity in the Labor Market,” University of North Carolina (January 2014).

Be creative—like a criminal

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If you need help thinking outside the box, you could do worse than to talk to some white-collar criminals. That’s one implication of a new study on the link between dishonesty and creativity. In several experiments, participants who were dishonest in reporting their performance on a task were also subsequently more creative. This was true even when controlling for initial creativity or when researchers made dishonest behavior hard to avoid. Because dishonesty is associated with breaking the rules, it enables more outside-the-box thinking; in fact, exposure to pictures of people breaking rules generated nearly the same effect.

 Gino, F. & Wiltermuth, S., “Evil Genius? How Dishonesty Can Lead to Greater Creativity,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Marriage after gay marriage

In the United States, one point of contention in the clash over same-sex marriage has been whether it has any implications at all for opposite-sex marriage. Now, a study of marriage trends in the Netherlands—the first country to legalize same-sex marriage—found that overall opposite-sex marriage rates were not significantly affected by the change. There was, however, an underlying divergence in marriage culture after the change: “Individuals living in more-conservative municipalities (the Dutch ‘Bible Belt’) and those from more-conservative ethnicities (Turks, Moroccans, and other non-Western immigrants) have tended to marry significantly more....In contrast, individuals residing in the more-liberal four largest cities have tended to marry significantly less.”

 Trandafir, M., “The Effect of Same-Sex Marriage Laws on Different-Sex Marriage: Evidence from the Netherlands,” Demography (February 2014).

Disagreement, good for the bottom line

It can be pleasant to work with people with politics like yours. But shareholders who want a company to succeed should pray for political disagreement among company leaders. Corporations with independent directors who were more politically aligned with the CEO—as measured by political contributions—had “lower valuations, lower operating performance, a lower probability of CEO turnover following poor performance, weaker compensation incentives, and a greater likelihood of corporate fraud.” This effect was more pronounced for smaller boards and remained after controlling for demographic differences, social ties, and influence peddling.

 Lee, J. et al., “Birds of a Feather: Value Implications of Political Alignment between Top Management and Directors,” Journal of Financial Economics (forthcoming).

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