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IDEAS

Social Studies: Pinpointing the harms of social media; reading vs. hearing; Lenin read a book on Marx

Slackline professional Lukas Irmler above the Karl Marx Monument in Chemnitz, Germany.Jan Woitas/Associated Press

Image problem

Social media may appear to be psychologically harmful, but it’s difficult to prove that, given that broader social forces or preexisting dispositions might explain patterns and experiences. A new study explores this question by examining the staggered rollout of high-speed Internet in the mountainous communities of British Columbia. In areas that got high-speed Internet first, enabling data-intensive visual social media, Google searches for “Instagram” have been persistently higher. In turn, school records indicate that severe mental health issues among teenage girls started rising significantly in these areas as social media like Instagram became exponentially more popular, in the mid-2010s. There was no such rise for teenage boys.

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Guo, E., “Social Media and Teenage Mental Health: Quasi-Experimental Evidence,” University of Toronto (November 2022).

Acting out

A sociologist created video clips in which a white, a Latino, or a Black teenage boy actor engaged in disruptive and defiant behavior in class. Public-school teachers around the country were then randomly assigned to view one of these videos. Even though the enacted behaviors were identical, teachers were more likely to judge that the Black boy would be referred to the principal’s office. Teachers in predominantly minority schools saw all of the depicted students as more blameworthy for the same behavior than teachers in predominantly white schools.

Owens, J., “Double Jeopardy: Teacher Biases, Racialized Organizations, and the Production of Racial/Ethnic Disparities in School Discipline,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Read the news

In experiments, psychologists from the University of Chicago tested people’s ability to think critically about semantic anomalies (e.g., “How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?”), verbal riddles (e.g., “If you are running a race and you pass the person in second place, what place are you in?”), or syllogisms (e.g., “All living things need water. Roses need water. Therefore, roses are living things.”). The subjects’ critical thinking was better if they had read these sentences than if they had heard them. This finding held in both America and China, and even when the written information was presented in such a way that people couldn’t reread it.

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Geipel, J. & Keysar, B., “Listening Speaks to Our Intuition While Reading Promotes Analytic Thought,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (forthcoming).

Capitalizing Marx

While the field of economics had already found the ideas of Karl Marx to be wanting by the late 19th century, the subsequent century has seen them resurrected in fields outside economics. Why? According to a new study in a top economics journal, the “historical accident” of the Russian Revolution forced Westerners to devote attention to Marx in an attempt to understand the geopolitical situation, crowding out competing socialist thinkers of Marx’s era. Indeed, after the revolution, citations of Marx’s work doubled or tripled relative to what would be expected based on his share of pre-revolutionary citations.

Magness, P. & Makovi, M., “The Mainstreaming of Marx: Measuring the Effect of the Russian Revolution on Karl Marx’s Influence,” Journal of Political Economy (forthcoming).

State police

Political scientists found that homicide rates are lower in countries whose people have historically lived under government rule for longer — regardless of whether that happened in those countries themselves or in the ancestral lands of immigrants to those countries. This is one of the strongest predictors of modern-day homicide rates, even considering other geographic, climate, demographic, and historical characteristics. Evidence suggests that a longer state history is associated with greater support for law-abiding behavior.

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Gerring, J. & Knutsen, C., “Homicide and State History,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).