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Uncommon Knowledge

Does schmoozing feel dirty? It’s not just you

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

When top talent hurts a team

Should Boston sports fans be happy when one of their teams adds an exceptional player to the roster? It depends whether we’re talking about the Red Sox or the Celtics. A new study finds that adding top talent to a team is beneficial only up to a point, after which adding more top talent subtracts from team performance—at least in sports that demand cooperative play. This was true in soccer (based on an analysis of 2010 and 2014 World Cup qualification matches) and in basketball (based on an analysis of NBA seasons). However, it was not true in Major League Baseball, where win percentage always increased with more top talent. As an example of the effect, the authors of the study note that despite the disappointing performance of the Miami Heat in the 2010-2011 NBA season, the Heat “won the championship in 2011–2012 when two of their All-Stars were hobbled by injuries, which lowered their overall talent but created a clear pecking order.”

 Swaab, R. et al., “The Too-Much-Talent Effect: Team Interdependence Determines When More Talent Is Too Much or Not Enough,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Togetherness through standing!

Many people now work at stand-up desks, since research has found that sitting all day is bad for your health. It turns out that sitting may also be bad for teamwork. In an experiment, groups of three to five people worked together in a room for 30 minutes to make a recruiting video. Chairs were either available or not available in the room. When people had to stand, they were less defensive about their own ideas and they collaborated better and produced better videos, as rated by independent judges.

 Knight, A. & Baer, M., “Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Beauty for status? Maybe not.

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The trophy-wife stereotype—in which high-status men mate with attractive women—is widely established in the popular culture. But is it truly a common reality, or more of an urban legend? A sociologist at Notre Dame analyzed “data on 1,507 couples in their early 20s in married, cohabiting, and dating relationships of minimum three-months duration” and found that there was little, if any, evidence of status being traded for beauty. Instead, there was plenty of evidence of matching, with partners sharing similar levels of attractiveness and status. The only context where there was a trace of a status-beauty trade was among less-committed couples, who the sociologist speculates “may undergo a winnowing process and advance less often to higher levels of commitment.”

 McClintock, E., “Beauty and Status: The Illusion of Exchange in Partner Selection?” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Safety in crowds (of believers)

Packed crowds can be claustrophobic and even outright dangerous; you need to trust those around you to act responsibly. Indeed, according to a new study, a sense of faith—and a sense of connection to the crowd—can give you real comfort. At the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during the Hajj, a survey of pilgrims found that while an objectively higher crowd density was associated with a somewhat lower feeling of safety, this was not the case for pilgrims who felt connected to the crowd and perceived it to be full of good Muslims. In fact, “those who were high in identification with the crowd actually felt more safe as density increased.”

 Alnabulsi, H. & Drury, J., “Social Identification Moderates the Effect of Crowd Density on Safety at the Hajj,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

The dirty art of the schmooze

Every business guru, mentor, and professor will tell you to network, and that schmoozing is the name of the game. But you’re not alone if you feel uncomfortable—or even a little dirty—taking their advice. In several experiments, researchers found that people who were made to think about, or engage in, purposeful professional networking subsequently felt dirtier, thought of more cleansing-related words, and judged cleansing products to be more desirable—unless they had been assigned to a position of power—compared to either spontaneous or personal networking.

 Casciaro, T. et al., “The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty,” Harvard University (April 2014).

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