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Uncommon Knowledge

The soothing power of TV reruns

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Refreshed by reruns

If, at the end of a long day, you’ve ever felt the desire to retreat into the world of your favorite TV show, you may be onto something, according to a researcher at the University of Buffalo. In a two-week diary study, students who had been depleted by exercising self-control one day were more likely to watch a favorite movie or show or read a favorite book the next day, and, as a result, were in a happier mood the day after that. Watching or reading something new didn’t have the same effect. Likewise, in an experiment, people who were first depleted by a tedious task wrote more about their favorite TV show than people who hadn’t completed a tedious task—with the result that the depleted people performed just as well on a puzzle as the nondepleted people.


Derrick, J., “Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Thanks for the help; here’s my vote!

With his reelection far from certain, President Obama is spending huge amounts of time and money campaigning. But what he could really use is a a swing state. A political scientist at the University of Michigan compared the records of FEMA disaster assistance in the aftermath of the 2004 hurricane season in Florida to voting records in that state. Receipt of disaster assistance, especially in the week before the election, made Republicans more likely to turn out to vote for the incumbent (George W. Bush, a Republican) and made Democrats less likely to turn out. Also, precincts that got more aid gave President Bush a greater share of the vote.

Chen, J., “Voter Partisanship and the Effect of Distributive Spending on Political Participation,” American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

An animal? But I’m so thoughtful

If you want to get belligerent people to simmer down, here’s an unexpected suggestion: Remind them that they’re animals. A new study finds that highlighting how we’re like animals—or “creaturely”—causes us to become uncomfortable with aggression, in both an individual and collective sense. People who read about how humans are like animals were subsequently less enthusiastic about hitting a punching bag, became more aware of their own mortality, and were less supportive of military action against Iran.


Motyl, M. et al., “Creatureliness Priming Reduces Aggression and Support for War,” British Journal of Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Stressed guys like larger ladies

In our prosperous Western society, thin is in. But new research suggests that this may persist only until the next crisis hits. In an experiment, men who had to stand up in front of a group of people for a mock job interview—thus inducing stress—were subsequently more attracted to images of heavier women. The theory behind this result is that our male ancestors adapted to harsh natural environments by seeking to reproduce with more robust women.

Swami, V. & Tovée, M., “The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men’s Judgments of Female Body Size,” PLoS ONE (August 2012).

The sunny IPOs of spring

Although Wall Street bankers and traders would like you to think they’re hyper-rational money-making machines, they’re still human, and they still get moody—including in response to the changing seasons. An analysis of initial public offerings of stock from a few decades ago (before today’s 24/7 global automated market) reveals that stocks that were issued in springtime outperformed stocks that were issued in the fall, during their first couple months on the market. After this initial honeymoon period for the springtime stocks, they underperformed for many months thereafter.


Kliger, D. et al., “When Chronobiology Met Economics: Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Demand for Initial Public Offerings,” Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics (August 2012).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
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