Uncommon Knowledge

No robot (or German) could handle my job!

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

No robot can replace me!

What do robots have in common with the British? It’s more upsetting to lose certain kinds of work to them. Psychologists at Northwestern University and Harvard Business School found that people are sensitive to the humanity of the person or thing taking their jobs, especially jobs that involve emotion. People were less comfortable with robots taking over jobs portrayed as involving emotion compared to those portrayed as involving cognition. However, people were more comfortable with robots taking over said jobs if the robots had a less robotic-looking face. They also balked at jobs being reassigned to certain other humans, based on related stereotypes: Americans were more comfortable outsourcing emotionally involved jobs to Australian, Spanish, or Irish workers compared to more robotically stereotyped Chinese, German, or English workers.

 Waytz, A. & Norton, M., “Botsourcing and Outsourcing: Robot, British, Chinese, and German Workers Are for Thinking — Not Feeling — Jobs,” Emotion (April 2014).

Please take me off that pedestal

When you fall in love, it’s tempting to fawn over your special someone, but you might do better to keep things real instead. A team of psychologists found that while people tend to report greater relationship satisfaction when their partners hold them in higher esteem, that’s only good up to a point; if their partners idealize them too much, satisfaction turns down. The psychologists also found this phenomenon experimentally: A person who was made to believe that his or her partner had written an excessive list of the person’s qualities subsequently sat farther away from his or her partner on a couch.

 Tomlinson, J. et al., “The Costs of Being Put on a Pedestal: Effects of Feeling Over-Idealized,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (May 2014).

How judge evaluations are biased

With the exception of George W. Bush, recent presidents have submitted the names of potential judicial nominees to a committee of the American Bar Association for a confidential evaluation. However, according to one political scientist, this practice is having a disparate impact on certain groups: “I find that black and female judicial nominees are indeed more likely to be awarded lower qualification ratings by the ABA, which in turn increases the likelihood that their nominations will fail. I find that this difference persists after matching on education, professional experience, years of legal experience, age, and ideology....Surprisingly, I find no evidence of partisan bias....Moreover, in exploring whether these might be a useful predictor of something like judicial ‘quality’ or ‘performance,’ I examine a newly collected data set on judges’ reversal rates. I find that judges who are poorly rated by the ABA are no more likely to have their opinions overturned than are their higher-rated peers. Taken together, these findings raise questions about why political actors rely on ABA ratings at all.”

 Sen, M., “How Judicial Qualification Ratings May Disadvantage Minority and Female Candidates,” Journal of Law and Courts (Spring 2014).

I’m too sexy for equality


Some are more equal than others—at least, that tends to be the perspective of people who know they’re hot. Researchers at Stanford found that perceiving oneself to be attractive increases one’s support for inequality. Not only was this true in a general survey, but it was also confirmed with experimental manipulations. After being randomly assigned to write about a situation in which they felt physically attractive, people rated themselves more physically attractive, identified more with the upper class, adopted more inequality-legitimizing attitudes, and were less interested in donating to a social cause.

 Belmi, P. & Neale, M., “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest of Them All? Thinking that One Is Attractive Increases the Tendency to Support Inequality,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (July 2014).

Make your charity goals concrete

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Would you get a bigger lift from trying to make someone happy, or from trying to make someone smile? A new study suggests that you should be specific. In a series of experiments, people who were instructed to aim for a concrete altruistic goal felt happier after doing so than if they had aimed for an abstract version of the same goal. This was true for various altruistic goals—including recycling and helping to find a bone marrow donor—and wasn’t explained by people performing different types of acts, but by concrete goals better meeting expectations. Nevertheless, people didn’t foresee this difference: They predicted that aiming for the abstract goal would make them happier.

 Rudd, M. et al., “Getting the Most out of Giving: Concretely Framing a Prosocial Goal Maximizes Happiness,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
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