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Social Studies: The power of AP style; trends in left-handedness; a tip for liar’s poker

Migrants crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into El Paso on Dec. 20, 2022. A new study indicates that not calling such travelers "illegal immigrants" in news stories influences public opinion,PAUL RATJE/NYT

A documented change

Even small changes in wording in newspapers can make a big difference in public opinion, according to a study published in a top economics journal. The study compared nationally representative survey data from before and after April 2013, when, after years of resistance, the Associated Press news service went from recommending use of the term “illegal immigrant” to banning its use in AP dispatches. After the change, people in counties with more circulation of newspapers using AP-sourced reporting became less supportive of tough immigration enforcement.

Djourelova, M., “Persuasion Through Slanted Language: Evidence from the Media Coverage of Immigration,” American Economic Review (March 2023).


The comeback of left-handers

In many countries in the West, the percentage of left-handed people appears to have declined in the 19th century and then rebounded in the 20th century. For example, in the United States, lefties bottomed out at roughly 6 percent of the population around 1900 and topped out at 13 percent by the 1960s. Because left-handedness is heritable, European economists believe the changing percentages were a Darwinian effect of industrial development. Before the Industrial Revolution, handedness had no bearing on individual productivity. But in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, equipment was often designed for right-handers, advantaging their productivity and ultimately their wealth and ability to support more children. Eventually, though, these more prosperous and otherwise advantaged right-handers were more likely to undergo the “demographic transition.” That’s when higher education and standards of living lead people to have fewer children. The researchers believe this would have led to a relative increase in left-handed people — until they too underwent the demographic transition and the percentages of righties and lefties stabilized. While there is no longer a difference in fertility among left- and right-handed people, in the knowledge economy of the last few decades, the prevalence of left-handers has become associated with higher economic growth — such that US states with more left-handers grow faster — because left-handers add diversity to ways of thinking.

Mariani, F. et al., “Left-Handedness and Economic Development,” Journal of Economic Growth (March 2023).



Researchers sent emails to principals at thousands of public schools pretending to be the parent of a prospective student, varying the disability status, gender, and race of the student. “We are moving to the area and are researching school options,” the emails said, in part. “We would love to learn more about your school. Is it possible to schedule a tour?” The messages were signed by either Amy or Tyra Williams. Offers of a tour or something similar were less likely for a disabled student, especially if the email came from Tyra.

Rivera, L. & Tilcsik, A., “Not in My Schoolyard: Disability Discrimination in Educational Access,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Driving equilibrium

When Uber raises fares, drivers benefit — but only for a little while. That’s according to an analysis by an MIT professor and Uber employees. They found that fare increases initially provided drivers with higher hourly earnings, but that boost wore off after a couple months. With the higher rates, drivers tried to work more hours and passengers used the service less, reducing the average time each driver was matched with passengers.

Hall, J. et al., “Ride-Sharing Markets Re-Equilibrate,” National Bureau of Economic Research (February 2023).


It’s “never” OK to lie

Even though many people admit to lying in everyday life, and even though most people believe that lying is sometimes OK, the first rule of lying club is: Never say it’s sometimes OK. A series of experiments found that the reputational costs of saying that lying is sometimes OK are greater than the reputational costs of saying it’s never OK and being seen as a hypocrite. This is because saying it’s sometimes OK is seen as a stronger signal of future lying.

Huppert, E. et al., “On Being Honest About Dishonesty: The Social Costs of Taking Nuanced (but Realistic) Moral Stances,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).