Uncommon Knowledge

National health insurance, supported by kids who share

And more surprising insights from the social sciences


Is your kindergartner good at sharing? If so, he or she might grow up to be an adult who believes in public benefits for society. In a new study, a psychologist analyzed data from an earlier study that followed individuals from their preschool years in Berkeley, Calif., through to adulthood. Sharing at age 5—as measured by the number of treats the child offered to another child for collaborating on a task—was associated with support for national health insurance in adulthood, even controlling for political identity in adulthood, gender, race, and childhood socioeconomic status, personality, and parent attitudes.

Dunkel, C., “Sharing in Childhood as a Precursor to Support for National Health Insurance,” Basic and Applied Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Dear Senator: Don’t lie. We’re watching.

Politicians are not exactly known for telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In recent years, some media and watchdog organizations have made a point of fact-checking their assertions—but critics have observed that once falsehoods are out there, it’s hard to undo the damage. Now a study suggests another path that might be more effective: namely, discouraging politicians from lying in the first place. Political scientists devised an experiment in which they randomly sent letters to state legislators before the 2012 election “reminding them of the risks to their reputation and electoral security if they were caught making questionable statements.” Compared to those who didn’t receive a letter or received a more passive letter, those who received the fact-checking letter were less likely to be called out during the campaign for spouting untruths—with “no evidence that these results were driven by legislators speaking less frequently or receiving less coverage.”

Nyhan, B. & Reifler, J., “The Effect of Fact-Checking on Elits: A Field Experiment on U.S. State Legislators,” American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

How whites see ‘black’

Both “black” and “African-American” are commonly accepted terms for Americans of African descent today—so does it matter which one you use? New research suggests that white people, at least, have more positive associations with the latter term. White people hold more negative stereotypes of “Blacks” compared to “African-Americans,” react more negatively towards a “Black” compared to an “African-American” criminal suspect, and estimate a lower salary and rank for a “Black” compared to an “African-American” man. An analysis of violent-crime-related news articles also revealed that there was angrier emotional content surrounding use of the term “Black” compared to “African-American.”

Hall, E. et al., “A Rose by Any Other Name?: The Consequences of Subtyping ‘African-Americans’ from ‘Blacks’,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (January 2015).

I’ll give to charity, not to overhead

Who wants to give to charity when you know your money is just keeping the lights on and not actually getting to those in need? Not that many charitable givers—which might make it smarter to cover overhead with large-scale donations. In both a laboratory experiment and an experiment with a real charity, researchers found that telling potential donors that overhead costs were already covered made a big difference. In fact, for the real charity, people were almost twice as likely to donate when they were told that a private donor had already covered all the overhead costs, compared to being told of a private donor’s seed donation or matching donation.

Gneezy, U. et al., “Avoiding Overhead Aversion in Charity,” Science (Oct. 31, 2014).

So entitled, so creative!

We Americans tend to be an entitled lot—but maybe that’s also helping us think outside the box. In a series of experiments, people who were made to feel entitled—either by writing about “why they should demand the best in life, why they deserve more than others, and why they should get their way in life” or by unscrambling sentences with entitlement-related themes—were subsequently more creative in tasks that involved coming up with different uses for a paper clip or a retail space, drawing aliens, or solving word associations. The researchers found that the effect of entitlement on creativity was explained by a greater need for uniqueness. The benefit did not carry over into noncreative verbal reasoning.

Zitek, E. & Vincent, L., “Deserve and Diverge: Feeling Entitled Makes People More Creative,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).


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