Uncommon Knowledge

Why gay men and straight women are friends

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

Debra Messing as Grace Adler and Eric McCormack as Will Truman in NBC’s “Will and Grace.”
NBC Photo/Chris Haston
Debra Messing as Grace Adler and Eric McCormack as Will Truman in NBC’s “Will and Grace.”

Power breeds patience

Much recent research has been devoted to “temporal discounting”—our tendency to sell out even large boons to our future selves (say, weighing less) for more immediate benefits (like being able to eat whatever we want right now). But new research from the University of Southern California suggests that one group may be better at taking the long view: the powerful. In several experiments, people who were put in a high-power state of mind put a higher value on future (relative to immediate) rewards—an effect that was explained by a greater sense of connection to one’s future self. Moreover, people who had a greater sense of power in the workplace accrued more savings, even controlling for income, subjective status, age, and sex.

Joshi, P. & Fast, N., “Power and Reduced Temporal Discounting,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Unstoppably frisky teens

One argument for requiring parental notification or consent for minors to get an abortion, as many states now do, is that it could deter teenagers from engaging in risky sex in the first place. However, based on an updated and improved analysis, it seems teens may be oblivious to these laws. Researchers found “little evidence that [parental involvement] laws were associated with changes in rates of gonorrhea or chlamydia among teens ages 15 to 19 and minors ages 15 to 17” and “no association between [parental involvement] laws and direct measures of sexual activity.”

Colman, S. et al., “Do Parental Involvement Laws Deter Risky Teen Sex?” National Bureau of Economic Research (February 2013).

Why Will and Grace are friends

A new study by evolutionary psychologists from Texas Christian University confirms what fans of “Will and Grace” and “Glee” have long suspected: Gay men and straight women are natural allies. When receiving relationship advice from a stranger on Facebook, straight women considered advice from a gay man to be more trustworthy than advice from a straight man or another straight woman. Likewise, gay men considered advice from a straight woman to be more trustworthy than advice from a lesbian or another gay man. As the authors of the study explain: “Despite being sexually attracted to the same gender (i.e., men), gay men and straight women are neither potential romantic partners nor mating competition for each other.”

Russell, E. et al., “Friends with Benefits, but without the Sex: Straight Women and Gay Men Exchange Trustworthy Mating Advice,” Evolutionary Psychology (February 2013).

Mr. Can-Do Face for president


Who do you like for the next president of Bulgaria? If you feel too uninformed to say, think again—you might be able to guess based just on which candidate’s face seems to reflect the most competence. Presented with standardized headshots of the 18 candidates in the 2011 Bulgarian presidential election but not knowing anything else about them, Americans ended up giving higher ratings of competence to, and were more willing to vote for, the candidates who actually got the most votes in the election.

Sussman, A. et al., “Competence Ratings in U.S. Predict Presidential Election Outcomes in Bulgaria,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Diverse college, higher wages

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In Supreme Court jurisprudence on affirmative action—including the forthcoming decision in Fisher v. University of Texas—a key question is whether promoting racial diversity is a sufficiently “compelling state interest” to trump the problems associated with racial classification and preferences. According to two economists, it is, at least in the sense that diversity literally pays off. In an analysis of a nationally representative sample of young people, they found that attending a more racially diverse college was associated with a higher income years later, for both whites and minorities.

Wolfe, B. & Fletcher, J., “Estimating Benefits from University-Level Diversity,” National Bureau of Economic Research (February 2013).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at