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uncommon Knowledge

Facebook, the site for disappointment

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Early help, long-term health

It’s well established that early childhood intervention programs for poor kids can be helpful in terms of preventing criminal behavior and boosting education and earnings. But a team of researchers has shown that they may have long-lasting physical health benefits, too. In the 1970s, a group of poor children in North Carolina was randomly assigned to receive full-day, high-quality day care and health care for their first five years. Then, in their mid-30s, participants were given a full physical, which revealed that they had a “significantly lower prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases” compared to their peers who had not received special care as young children.

 Campbell, F. et al., “Early Childhood Investments Substantially Boost Adult Health,” Science (March 28, 2014).

Family not hampering women candidates

Why do fewer women run for office than men? One common assumption is that women may run less frequently because of greater family responsibilities. However, a recent study suggests that the real explanations lie elsewhere. Based on “a national survey of a random sample of equally credentialed women and men who are well-positioned to serve as future candidates for all elective offices”—from the professions of law, business, education, and politics—“the statistical evidence is overwhelming,” as the authors conclude that “family roles and structures do not predict interest in running for office. And when we extend our analysis to pursuing an actual candidacy—which is, admittedly, based on far fewer cases—the results remain the same. Our analysis also reveals that family structures and roles do not work through the central predictors of political ambition; they do not affect potential candidates’ political recruitment, perceptions of their qualifications to run for office, or levels of political participation.”

 Fox, R. & Lawless, J., “Reconciling Family Roles with Political Ambition: The New Normal for Women in Twenty-First Century U.S. Politics,” Journal of Politics (April 2014).

When closing time comes too early

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A standard early closing time for bars seems like a measure that could help keep drunk drivers off the road. But new research suggests it’s not so simple. For most of the past century, pubs in England and Wales were generally restricted to closing at 9:30 p.m. or, more recently, 11 p.m. About a decade ago, however, the law was changed so that pubs in England and Wales could apply to remain open much later, effectively leading to staggered closing times across different pubs. To see if this helped or hurt the drunk-driving problem, economists compared accident trends in England and Wales to Scotland, where the new law didn’t apply. It turns out that moving to the staggered schedule was associated with a significant reduction in traffic accidents, especially for young people.

 Green, C. et al., “Did Liberalising Bar Hours Decrease Traffic Accidents?” Journal of Health Economics (forthcoming).

The disappointment of Facebook

It might feel nice to take a quick peek at Facebook, right? You probably think so—and you’re probably wrong. Psychologists asked users on Facebook to report their mood, along with how much time they had just spent using Facebook. Time on Facebook was negatively correlated with mood. To verify this link experimentally, the psychologists randomly assigned people to 20 minutes of using Facebook, browsing the Internet, or neither. Those who were assigned to use Facebook subsequently reported a less positive mood and a stronger feeling of having wasted their time. Yet, in a separate survey, people estimated that Facebook would make them feel better, which may explain why people aren’t deterred from using Facebook.

 Sagioglou, C. & Greitemeyer, T., “Facebook’s Emotional Consequences: Why Facebook Causes a Decrease in Mood and Why People Still Use It,” Computers in Human Behavior (June 2014).

Blame it on the rain

Could Election Day weather affect the political direction of the country? That may sound implausible, but a new study by political scientists suggests weather can have real and lasting effects. In an analysis of decades of congressional elections, an extra inch of rain around Election Day reduced the margin for incumbent Democrats by a couple of percentage points. That, in turn, caused incumbent Democrats who managed to win reelection—particularly after a competitive race—to subsequently adopt more conservative positions. Although this effect may have diminished as politics has become more polarized, it nevertheless suggests that voters should think twice about not turning out in bad weather.

 Henderson, J. & Brooks, J., “Rain and Representation: The Effect of Margin of Victory on Incumbent Legislative Behavior,” Yale University (March 2014).

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