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Social Studies: Cell phone-induced polarization; overconfident with Google; business tips

Cellphone antennas in London.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Information overload

According to an economist at Princeton, the rollout of 3G cell phone service — enabling more intensive Internet use on cell phones — played a significant role in increasing partisan polarization between 2008 and 2017. By comparing areas that got 3G service at different times and controlling for various individual and area socioeconomic characteristics, the economist estimated that it “can account for “11.3 percent of the increase in polarization in political views, 37.7 percent of the increase in polarization in voting behavior, and . . . 34.8 percent of the increase in polarization in policy preferences.” The advent of 3G also helped reorient partisan socioeconomic divides. Users in both parties who were active on the Internet before 3G shifted left, while users in both parties who were not active on the Internet before 3G shifted right.


Melnikov, N., “Mobile Internet and Political Polarization,” Princeton University (October 2021).

Total recall

In a series of experiments, people answered general-knowledge questions. Some of the participants were instructed to use Google; some were instructed to not use it. Those who were told to use Google subsequently thought they were smarter, had a better memory, and would do better on another general-knowledge test without using Google. (They did not in fact do better on a second test without Google.) This effect was attenuated when people had to write down answers before using Google, or wait 25 seconds for search results, or use Wikipedia or Lycos (a little-known search engine) — suggesting that Google’s speed and familiarity blur people’s conceptions of internal and external knowledge.

Ward, A., “People Mistake the Internet’s Knowledge for Their Own,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (October 2021).

Image management

A study found that the social-responsibility ratings of large publicly traded corporations increased after the corporation launched a Twitter account; the study controlled for corporate finances, industry, and year. Ratings also increased as companies gained years of experience, followers, tweets, and multiple accounts on Twitter. This didn’t appear to be explained by reverse causality, as companies with higher social-responsibility ratings were not more likely to use Twitter.


Balasubramanian, S. et al., “Twitter Presence and Experience Improve Corporate Social Responsibility Outcomes,” Journal of Business Ethics (November 2021).

Give me a minute

An analysis of audio-recorded negotiations found that a greater number of silent pauses (of at least a few seconds) was associated with a greater number of agreements that were beneficial to both parties. To test this experimentally, some people in a negotiation were instructed to take long pauses before speaking. Pauses increased positive-sum agreements, especially if enacted by the negotiator in the higher-power role. The effect operates by promoting a deliberative mindset.

Curhan, J. et al., “Silence Is Golden: Extended Silence, Deliberative Mindset, and Value Creation in Negotiation,” Journal of Applied Psychology (forthcoming).

Scaring women out of business

Some states allow noncompete agreements between employers and employees, which prevent the employee from leaving to start a competing business. A recent study suggests that this may have the unintended consequence of deterring female entrepreneurs, because of their greater aversion to the risk of a lawsuit. Employment data from multiple states, controlled for multiple factors, confirms that in states that allow these agreements and in industries that use them, women are less likely to start companies in the industry niche of their previous employer.


Marx, M., “Employee Non-Compete Agreements, Gender, and Entrepreneurship,” Organization Science (forthcoming).