Uncommon Knowledge

People with a sweet tooth don’t want to wait

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Lesley Becker/Globe staff; iStock

The impulsive candy fiend

By definition, if you have a sweet tooth, you’re tempted by sweet foods. But new research from the University of Chicago suggests you’ll also be the kind of person who’s tempted by any immediate gratification. Healthy young adults without substance-abuse histories were asked to rate the sweetness of various cherry Kool-Aid concentrations. Individuals who liked the sweetest concentrations also expressed a stronger preference for smaller, immediate rewards relative to larger, delayed rewards. (However, liking sweetness was not associated with the ability to exercise self-control.)

 Weafer, J. et al., “Sweet Taste Liking Is Associated with Impulsive Behaviors in Humans,” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (June 2014).

Begone, bad doctors

Malpractice damages can soar to unbelievable heights these days, and some states have instituted caps on how high they can go. That may be a big boon—for people in neighboring states. A study by an economist at Notre Dame finds that “when a county’s neighboring state passes a cap on noneconomic damages, the supply of physicians falls by 4 percent” in that county, but the statewide malpractice rate also “falls by approximately 4 percent.” This doesn’t seem to be explained by higher-risk specialties leaving the state. Instead, it looks like malpractice-prone doctors move their practices over the state line. And that can mean a real improvement in outcomes for patients in the states left behind: “A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that if all of a state’s neighbors were to pass caps on noneconomic damages, there would be 311 fewer deaths per year in that state.”

 Lieber, E., “Medical Malpractice Reform, the Supply of Physicians, and Adverse Selection,” Journal of Law and Economics (May 2014).

Accidentally good for the earth!

The packaging on products often touts the environmental spirit behind them. But maybe marketers should think twice. In several experiments, researchers at the Yale School of Management found that when a product was described as better for the environment “as initially intended,” people were less interested in buying it, compared to when it was better for the environment “as an unintended side effect.” The same phenomenon occurred in the context of food: People expected it to be tastier if its healthiness was unintended versus intended. The phenomenon seems to be the result of people inferring that socially responsible motives lead to a lower investment in quality. Indeed, the effect was reversed when the socially responsible benefit was not part of the product itself, as in paying workers better wages.

Newman, G. et al., “When Going Green Backfires: How Firm Intentions Shape the Evaluation of Socially Beneficial Product Enhancements,” Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming).

Are interracial couples...hotter?


Interracial relationships have traditionally been frowned upon by many communities. What would make people brave possible disapproval to date outside their race? Maybe someone extremely good-looking. Researchers at the University of California Irvine found that “interracial daters exhibited more desirable attributes than intraracial daters, most consistently in the realm of physical attractiveness” as judged by independent raters.

 Wu, K. et al., “The Sweetness of Forbidden Fruit: Interracial Daters Are More Attractive than Intraracial Daters,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (forthcoming).

Married CEOs play it safe

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Note to boards of directors: If you want to push your company, consider hiring a CEO who’s single. In an analysis of the financial performance of publicly traded companies, two professors of finance found that companies run by unmarried CEOs “invest more aggressively (in capital expenditures, R&D, advertising, and acquisitions)” and have more volatile stock prices, even after controlling for other characteristics of the CEO and the company. To confirm that this relationship didn’t just reflect riskier firms hiring riskier personalities, the professors compared companies headquartered in states with community-property divorce laws to companies headquartered in other states—considering that “wealthy individuals are substantially less likely to be married in community property states”—and found that the effects of CEO marital status “continue to hold (and are actually stronger).”

Roussanov, N. & Savor, P., “Marriage and Managers’ Attitudes to Risk,” Management Science (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
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