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Uncommon Knowledge

Marijuana, shield me from rejection

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

This explains Albany

Most of the population of Massachusetts is located near Boston—and new research suggests that residents can be thankful that Boston is also the state’s capital. A study finds that states with capitals that are farther away from the bulk of the state’s population have more corrupt governments, as measured by the number of federal convictions for public corruption. According to the authors of the study, this is a “very robust connection, in spite of the inherently small sample size.” The effect of an isolated capital appears to be driven by a lack of accountability: There’s less newspaper coverage of state politics, and less interest in state politics on the part of distant residents. And, in addition to federal convictions, isolated capitals are also associated with more campaign contributions, higher governor salaries, and less spending on the public relative to spending on bureaucracy.

Campante, P. & Do, Q.-A., “Isolated Capital Cities, Accountability and Corruption: Evidence from US States,” National Bureau of Economic Research (May 2013).

Strong men: More money for me!

In these modern, bureaucratic times, what difference does it make whether a man is physically strong? Oddly, a new study suggests it may have implications for his politics: Strong men with money don’t want you to take it away, while strong men with less believe in redistribution. In a new study, while the circumference of the flexed bicep of men’s dominant arms was associated with more opposition to redistribution among affluent men in Argentina, Denmark, and the United States, it was associated with more support for redistribution among working-class men in those same countries, even controlling for age, body mass index, exercise, and political ideology. There was no comparable pattern among women.

Petersen, M. et al., “The Ancestral Logic of Politics: Upper-Body Strength Regulates Men’s Assertion of Self-Interest over Economic Redistribution” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Pot, shield against rejection

Is pot the anti-loneliness drug? People smoke marijuana for many reasons, but new research suggests that one reason for its popularity is that it protects its users from certain difficult emotions. In several surveys, people—especially high-school students—who reported smoking marijuana more frequently reported less of a negative impact on self-worth and depression from being lonely or rejected.

Deckman, T. et al., “Can Marijuana Reduce Social Pain?” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Uncertain? Follow the narcissist

Everyone rails against narcissistic executives and politicians, but in uncertain times, it seems we want that narcissist in charge. In several experiments that presented participants with business situations involving certainty or uncertainty, participants overwhelmingly preferred narcissistic leaders when confronted with uncertainty—even though such leaders were rated as more selfish, arrogant, manipulative, and less empathic—but not when there was certainty.

Nevicka, B. et al., “Uncertainty Enhances the Preference for Narcissistic Leaders,” European Journal of Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.