Uncommon Knowledge

How women candidates get boxed in

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

YOLO (if I’m being watched)

Young people are known for their desire for immediate gratification—they want what they want now. But are they like that in private—or are they just showing off for others? Psychologists at Temple University found that young college students were significantly more biased toward immediate gratification if they thought they were being observed by a peer, even though they didn’t know and couldn’t see the peer.

Weigard, A. et al., “Effects of Anonymous Peer Observation on Adolescents’ Preference for Immediate Rewards,” Developmental Science (forthcoming).

You’re more influential than you know

In our narcissistic age, we’re all supposed to think of ourselves as superstars whom others will follow. According to organizational psychologists, though, people may actually underestimate the influence they can have on others. This leaves people “reluctant to spearhead new initiatives in the workplace, unwilling to admit their role in their subordinates’ performance failures, and less likely to speak up in the face of organizational wrongdoing. They may also be too quick to rely on external incentives, such as rewards and punishments, to manage employee performance and organizational change, rather than trusting in their own powers to persuade and motivate.”

Bohns, V. & Flynn, F., “Underestimating Our Influence over Others at Work,” Research in Organizational Behavior (forthcoming).

How women candidates get boxed in

Imagine you’re a campaign manager for a prominent politician. Does your strategy depend on the gender of the candidates in the race? An analysis of TV ads in campaigns for governor or the US Senate where one of the candidates was a woman “finds considerable evidence that male candidates, particularly gubernatorial candidates, strategically
attempt to bait their female opponents into campaigning on feminine issues to prime gender stereotypes in the eyes of the electorate.” So, while female candidates usually start out by emphasizing more stereotypically “masculine” issues like the economy and foreign policy—to offset gender stereotypes—their male opponents counter this by emphasizing stereotypically “feminine” issues like education and welfare. If the female candidate takes the bait, then the male candidate switches back to masculine issues, resulting in both candidates seesawing between masculine and feminine issues—a pattern not observed in male-versus-male races.

Windett, J., “Gendered Campaign Strategies in U.S. Elections,” American Politics Research (forthcoming).

The semester-off penalty


Note to college students, especially women: Think carefully before you take a semester or two off for some adventure. In a recent study, taking time off from college to travel abroad or try filmmaking led to lower evaluations of one’s resume for a consulting job. This penalty was significantly worse for a woman. Although interrupting college led to a perception of instability and flexibility for both a man and a woman, the man was perceived as demonstrating more flexibility, and he wasn’t penalized for instability.

Halim, M. & Heilman, M., “Sex Bias in Evaluating Nontraditional Job Applicants: Reactions to Women and Men’s Interrupted College Attendance,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology (November 2013).

Beautiful leaders for a sick world

Get Arguable in your inbox:
Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Scott Brown may not be a senator anymore, but don’t count the former centerfold out, especially if there’s a pandemic. That’s the implication of a recent study that found attractive candidates performed better in the 2010 congressional elections—but only in districts with more disease, as measured by infant mortality and life expectancy. Also, in online experiments, people who had been put in a disease-disgust frame of mind considered attractiveness to be a more important characteristic of political leaders, were more supportive of unknown politicians with attractive photos, and had a stronger preference to hire an attractive person to be their boss.

White, A. et al., “Beauty at the Ballot Box: Disease Threats Predict Preferences for Physically Attractive Leaders,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

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