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Social Studies: Sadistic boredom, the authoritarian mindset, and how to reduce police shootings

Research suggests support for the Republican Party, particularly in the age of Donald Trump, is associated with an authoritarian mindset.Erin Scott/Bloomberg

Nothing to do but troll

Psychologists found that people who report being more prone to boredom also report being more prone to sadistic thinking, even controlling for various other aspects of personality. In fact, the correlation between boredom and fantasizing about shooting someone for fun was greater than the correlation between boredom and fantasizing about being rich, being a rock star, working in a great job, or partaking in exciting sex. The correlation also appears to be causal, as making people watch a boring video increased sadistic behavior — killing worms, cutting other people’s pay in experiments — particularly for self-reported sadists, but even for non-sadists when there were no positive outlets for alleviating boredom.


Pfattheicher, S. et al., “On the Relation of Boredom and Sadistic Aggression,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Party discipline

Political scientists have observed that the Republican Party, especially under Donald Trump, is increasingly driven by voters with a more authoritarian mindset. One political scientist’s work, however, suggests the party is a big source of that worldview. Repeated surveys of the same sample of people in 2012 and 2013, and another sample during the 2016 general election, reveal that an authoritarian mindset — as measured by attitudes about the qualities that children should develop (e.g., obedience, manners) — did not predict increasing support for Republicans. Instead, support for Republicans somewhat predicted an increasingly authoritarian mindset, even controlling for age, sex, race, education, and income.

Luttig, M., “Reconsidering the Relationship between Authoritarianism and Republican Support in 2016 and Beyond,” Journal of Politics (forthcoming).

Does sunshine really help?

In theory, negotiation and compromise should be easier in the Massachusetts Legislature, which is not subject to the state’s open-meetings law, than in the California Legislature, which is subject to that state’s open-meetings law. But a study comparing legislatures before and after changes in open-meeting requirements generally finds “negligible effects” in measures of bill enactment, budget outcomes, and party loyalty and polarization.


Harden, J. & Kirkland, J., “Does Transparency Inhibit Political Compromise?” American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

Hands down, don’t shoot

In a police firearms training simulator, officers from 23 different agencies in three different states were dispatched to a “possible trespass in progress” where the caller had reported that the suspect “appears to be holding a gun.” Officers were randomly assigned to arrive on scene carrying their pistol in one of three positions: aiming, holding at sternum level, or holding at navel level. At the scene, the suspect pulled either a cellphone or a gun from his pocket. In the cellphone scenario, a majority of officers in the aiming and high-holding positions fired, while only 30 percent did so in the low-holding position. In the gun scenario, where a shooting response was obviously justified, there was little difference in response times between positions.

Taylor, P., “'Engineering Resilience' into Split-Second Shoot/No Shoot Decisions: The Effect of Muzzle-Position,” Police Quarterly (forthcoming).

Wealth inequality tax

A study finds that metropolitan-area household wealth inequality is associated with fewer business startups and lower business turnover, fewer high-tech businesses, and lower growth of income per capita in that area, controlling for many other socio-economic factors. Much of this effect appears to be the result of poorer public institutions, including the legal system and especially education.

Braggion, F. et al., “Household Inequality, Entrepreneurial Dynamism, and Corporate Financing,” Review of Financial Studies (forthcoming).