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Janet Leigh in "Psycho," from 1960. Research indicates that wealthier people are likelier to enjoy horror movies.
Janet Leigh in "Psycho," from 1960. Research indicates that wealthier people are likelier to enjoy horror movies.American Film Institute

Origin story

Some of Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 campaign was obviously based on his pitch to voters whom some political scientists label as “racially conservative.” But researchers have also found evidence that Trump led his supporters to become more racially conservative. Trump supporters surveyed early in the campaign and again later in the campaign displayed a significant increase in their opposition to Black Lives Matter, whereas those who opposed Black Lives Matter from the beginning did not become more likely to support Trump than a generic Republican. Meanwhile, Trump appears to have pushed Clinton supporters in the opposite direction, significantly reducing their support for building a border wall.

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Enns, P. & Jardina, A., “Complicating the Role of White Racial Attitudes and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in the 2016 US Presidential Election,” Public Opinion Quarterly (forthcoming).

Underwater ethics

In an experiment, participants were seated in a room with a computer and a large fish tank, in which there was a lifelike robot fish that most participants thought was real. Participants were instructed to use the computer to administer — via motorized syringe — increasing amounts of an ostensibly toxic substance into the water until the fish died. An oscilloscope displayed signals and played sounds suggesting increasing stress in the fish. Among the participants who didn’t think the experiment was fake, some refused to begin the experiment, but around half went all the way through to killing the fish. The study was a twist on the infamous Milgram experiments at Yale a half-century ago, in which participants were asked to administer electric shocks to people to explore the dynamics of obedience. But the scientists behind the current study note that blind obedience does not adequately explain why study subjects tend to do as they’re told. In the current study, the scientists were exploring whether a favorable view of the scientific enterprise made people more likely to go along with the research. Indeed, participants were more likely to administer the supposedly toxic doses if they had been previously asked to write positively about science.

Bègue, L. & Vezirian, K., “Sacrificing Animals in the Name of Scientific Authority: The Relationship Between Pro-Scientific Mindset and the Lethal Use of Animals in Biomedical Experimentation,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

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Thinking for yourself

Survey data from America and China indicates that people with a higher degree of collectivism rather than individualism are more likely to find truth and meaning in pseudoscience, fake news, and randomly generated sentences such as “Love is a forest.” The researchers argue that “collectivism increases people’s sense that they are responsible for inferring what a communicator is trying to say,” such that “people process claims as if they were asking implicitly, ‘How might this claim make sense?’”

Lin, Y. et al., “Seeing Meaning Even When None May Exist: Collectivism Increases Belief in Empty Claims,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Halloween for the rich

Countries with lower GDP per capita spend less per capita on horror movies but not less on romance or documentary movies. Likewise, in experiments, people who were put in a resource-scarcity mindset were less interested in a scary experience. The researchers attributed the results to the effect of scarcity on one’s sense of control.

Yang, H. & Zhang, K., “How Resource Scarcity Influences the Preference for Counterhedonic Consumption,” Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming).

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Study overload

A new study suggests that too many scientific studies are being published, which is taxing the attention of fellow scientists. That means already-frequently cited studies tend to get more citations, in turn making it harder for new studies to become highly cited and introduce disruptive ideas.

Chu, J. & Evans, J., “Slowed Canonical Progress in Large Fields of Science,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (October 2021).