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What betrays a poker face: your arms

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

Storms make environmentalists

How do you feel about climate change? It might depend on the last time you faced some nasty weather. Researchers at Rutgers University tested students before and after the hurricanes (Irene and Sandy) that recently struck New Jersey. Although the students reported being similarly liberal and reported similar support for a hypothetical green candidate before and after the storms, their automatic associations—measured by how readily the students associated good or bad words with each candidate—reversed, favoring the green candidate and becoming correlated with voting and environmental attitudes only after the storms.

Rudman, L. et al., "When Truth Is Personally Inconvenient, Attitudes Change: The Impact of Extreme Weather on Implicit Support for Green Politicians and Explicit Climate-Change Beliefs," Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Purpose-driven racial harmony

As much as we pay lip service to diversity, it’s a sad fact that being surrounded by people who are different can make us unhappy. But new research suggests that a clear sense of what we’re doing ourselves can override that discomfort. In a recent study, college students in Chicago were instructed to get on a train going downtown and report their feelings along the way. Students reported a more negative mood when there were more passengers of a different ethnicity in the train car. However, such diversity wasn’t associated with negative mood for students who had—or who had written about—a strong sense of purpose in life.

Burrow, A. & Hill, P., "Derailed by Diversity? Purpose Buffers the Relationship between Ethnic Composition on Trains and Passenger Negative Mood," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

Grieving? Time to procreate

When you lose a loved one, it makes you live for the moment. That’s the gist of a new study on the consequences of bereavement for subsequent life choices. People who reported being very close to at least several people who had died in the past five years also reported earlier actual or ideal ages for having kids and exhibited a stronger preference for immediate gratification, even controlling for age, sex, and financial resources.

Pepper, G. & Nettle, D., "Death and the Time of Your Life: Experiences of Close Bereavement Are Associated with Steeper Financial Future Discounting and Earlier Reproduction," Evolution and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

Good poker face, bad poker arms

It’s a useful skill in life to have a convincing poker face. But if you really want to fool your opponents, consider something else: How good are your poker arms? Using video clips that were only a couple seconds long, researchers found that “observers naive to the quality of professional players’ poker hands could judge, better than chance, poker-hand quality from merely observing players’ arm actions while placing bets. The accuracy of participants’ judgments when viewing players’ upper bodies was no different from chance, and when observing players’ faces, participants’ accuracy was nearly worse than chance, which suggests that players’ facial cues were deceptive. Arm motions might provide a more diagnostic cue to poker-hand quality than other nonverbal behaviors.”

Slepian, M. et al., "Quality of Professional Players' Poker Hands Is Perceived Accurately from Arm Motions," Psychological Science (forthcoming).


The sexy ‘dark triad’

Most women say they’re not interested in “bad boys.” But the evidence says otherwise. Young women in Britain read one of two descriptions supposedly written by a man about himself. One of the descriptions was written as if the man had psychological traits known as the Dark Triad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy). The women rated this man as significantly more attractive.

Carter, G. et al., "The Dark Triad Personality: Attractiveness to Women," Personality and Individual Differences (forthcoming).

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