Uncommon Knowledge

Play Tetris, lose weight!

And more surprising insights from the social sciences



Inequality hits kids, too

As a working adult, it’s hard to ignore America’s growing economic inequality. But new research from Cornell University is a reminder that it has an impact on kids, too. Counties with higher income inequality had a higher prevalence of child maltreatment, even controlling for poverty, race, education, and statewide differences. The association between inequality and maltreatment was stronger with higher levels of poverty.

 Eckenrode, J. et al., “Income Inequality and Child Maltreatment in the United States,” Pediatrics (forthcoming).

The book-prize backlash

Has your book been shortlisted for a prize? If you care most about how good people think it is, instead of whether it’s a bestseller, better hope someone else wins. An analysis of thousands of book reviews from the website revealed that winning a prestigious prize caused a book to suffer a greater decline in reviewer ratings, compared to a book that was a finalist for the prize and had garnered similar ratings before the prize announcement. This negative effect was especially pronounced for books that had not been widely read before being shortlisted. It seems that winning the prize lures readers that would not have read the book otherwise, yet these new readers have more divergent tastes and are less likely to enjoy the book. Post-prize reviewers also seem to be rebelling against the book’s newfound popularity.

 Kovács, B. & Sharkey, A., “The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality,” Administrative Science Quarterly (March 2014).

Tetris yourself skinny


The next time you find yourself craving some treat or substance, consider loading up a game of Tetris on your computer. Psychologists in Britain found that people who played Tetris experienced a reduction in whatever craving they had. The theory behind this is that mental imagery is central to craving, so that redirecting visuospatial working memory—e.g., with Tetris—interferes with this process.

 Skorka-Brown, J. et al., “Playing ‘Tetris’ Reduces the Strength, Frequency and Vividness of Naturally Occurring Cravings,” Appetite (forthcoming).

May the hottest cyclist win

Could we guess who will win the next Tour de France based purely on who’s best-looking? A Swiss researcher found that cyclists who performed better in the Tour de France also tended to be those whose headshot photos were rated as more attractive—by both men and women, but especially by women not using the pill—even controlling for cyclist age and size.

 Postma, E., “A Relationship between Attractiveness and Performance in Professional Cyclists,” Biology Letters (February 2014).

Does Walmart hurt crime rates?

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Walmart is known for its discount prices, but the communities that embrace it may pay an unexpected price of their own. Counties where Walmart built a store during the 1990s experienced a smaller reduction in crime—particularly property crime—during that period, compared to counties with similar characteristics but where Walmart didn’t build.

 Wolfe, S. & Pyrooz, D., “Rolling Back Prices and Raising Crime Rates? The Walmart Effect on Crime in the United States,” British Journal of Criminology (March 2014).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.
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