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Uncommon Knowledge

It’s afternoon: immorality time!

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

It’s afternoon: immorality time!

There’s “normal business hours,” and then there are the hours where people are more likely to do business honorably. In several experiments, researchers found that people were less apt to lie and cheat in the morning compared to the afternoon. Since they were more mentally fatigued in the afternoon, they had more trouble resisting temptation and keeping morality in mind.

Kouchaki, M. & Smith, I., “The Morning Morality Effect: The Influence of Time of Day on Unethical Behavior,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

The ‘bunch of hotties’ effect

Hitting the streets with a group of your friends might make you feel safer. But it may also make you look more attractive. In a new study from the University of California, San Diego, both male and female faces were rated as more attractive when presented alongside other faces of the same gender than when presented alone. “Thus, having a few wingmen—or wing-women—may indeed be a good dating strategy, particularly if their facial features complement, and average out, one’s unattractive idiosyncrasies.”

Walker, D. & Vul, E., “Hierarchical Encoding Makes Individuals in a Group Seem More Attractive,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

A $6 fee can change students’ lives

For students from less privileged backgrounds, applying to college can be a particularly bewildering process, with key decisions to make at every step of the way. A recent analysis by a professor of economics at Harvard confirms how much little things can matter to their success—including a fee of just $6. When the ACT increased from three to four the number of free score reports that students could send out to colleges, most students simply followed along by sending out four instead of three, even though the cost of sending additional score reports had only been $6. This seemingly trivial change in the number of free score reports nevertheless increased the number of applications that students ended up submitting and, for students from low-income families, resulted in matriculation at more selective colleges and over $10,000 more in expected lifetime earnings.

Pallais, A., “Small Differences that Matter: Mistakes in Applying to College,” National Bureau of Economic Research (September 2013).

Gay men earn more than straight men

Until recently, discrimination against gays was the norm in the United States—and it still persists in many places. However, unlike racial minorities, whose civil rights have been established for longer, gay men, at least, seem already to have caught up with the majority in earning power. An analysis by two economists reveals that, even controlling for age, race, and education, the earnings of single same-sex-oriented men have overtaken the earnings of single opposite-sex-oriented men during the last two decades.

Clarke, G. & Sevak, P., “The Disappearing Gay Wage Penalty,” Economics Letters (forthcoming).

I support welfare—when I’m hungry

Note to Republican campaign operatives: You might want to try plying prospective voters with cookies. Political scientists in Denmark offered people either regular Sprite or low-calorie Sprite Zero and found that those who consumed regular Sprite—thereby boosting their blood sugar level—became less supportive of social welfare. Yet they were not more selfish when asked to share money with strangers.

Aaroe, L. & Petersen, M., “Hunger Games: Fluctuations in Blood Glucose Levels Influence Support for Social Welfare,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

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