Uncommon Knowledge

For men, low voices confer power

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

Want to run a big company? Pitch your voice to sound like Johnny Cash.
Don Hunstein © Sony Music
Want to run a big company? Pitch your voice to sound like Johnny Cash.

The deep voice of leadership

Guys, want to run a big company? Try pitching your voice to sound more like Johnny Cash. In an analysis of the voice pitch of male CEOs of public companies, researchers found that CEOs of bigger companies had lower-pitched voices—an association that was comparable to the association between CEO age and company size. CEOs with lower-pitched voices also had a longer tenure at their companies.

Mayew, W. et al., “Voice Pitch and the Labor Market Success of Male Chief Executive Officers,” Evolution and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

Sell it like an ambivert

Selling means engaging people—and so it has generally been assumed that you have to be highly extroverted to be a good salesperson. However, a new study suggests otherwise. A survey of employees at a company that operates outbound call centers around the country revealed that the employees with the highest average sales performance were “ambiverts”—halfway between introverted and extroverted. The theory is that “because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.”

Grant, A., “Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal: The Ambivert
Advantage,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

In debt (not counting offshore stash)

For years, economists have observed that the rich countries of the world appear to be net debtors to developing countries like China. However, according to a new paper in a top economics journal, that’s only part of the picture: In fact, this has actually been “an illusion caused by tax havens.” The author argues that economic statistics don’t account for the billions of dollars that people in rich countries have stashed away in offshore bank accounts. This amount of money is estimated to be twice as large as the official net debt of the rich countries, and accounting for it significantly reduces these countries’ debt.

Zucman, G., “The Missing Wealth of Nations: Are Europe and the U.S. Net Debtors or Net Creditors?” Quarterly Journal of Economics (forthcoming).

I’d like 23 small Cokes, please


New York City’s effort to ban sugary drinks from being “offered or sold in cups or containers that can contain more than 16 fluid ounces” has stirred plenty of controversy. Now there’s a study from the University of California, San Diego suggesting that there’s an easy way for vendors to get around the ban—in a way that causes it to backfire. When presented with a menu that included the option to buy bundled cups of soda (16 oz. cup for $1.59, two 12 oz. cups for $1.79, or two 16 oz. cups for $1.99), people indicated that they’d buy a greater total quantity of soda than when presented with a menu with unrestricted cup sizes (16 oz. cup for $1.59, 24 oz. cup for $1.79, or 32 oz. cup for $1.99). And the vendor actually earns more revenue from the bundled-cups menu than from the unrestricted-cups menu.

Wilson, B. et al., “Regulating the Way to Obesity: Unintended Consequences of Limiting Sugary Drink Sizes,” PLoS ONE (April 2013).

Love the liar, shun the whistle-blower

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Get that whistle-blower out of here! That’s how subjects responded in an experiment by researchers at Columbia University. Subjects were assigned to groups and given incentives both to lie about their performance and to rat each other out. When groups had no say in who could be in their group, liars were often reported. However, when groups could reject people, whistle-blowers were shunned by both liars and nonliars, while liars were welcomed. This led to the formation of mafia-like groups, “where lying is prevalent and reporting is nonexistent.”

Reuben, E. & Stephenson, M., “Nobody Likes a Rat: On the Willingness to Report Lies and the Consequences Thereof,” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
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