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Finding Shakespeare’s mark

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

For centuries now, scholars have debated the authorship of the play “Double Falsehood,” which was published in 1728 by Lewis Theobald. Theobald claimed that it was a long-lost work of Shakespeare. In a new study, psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin compared word usage from “Double Falsehood” to plays known to have been written by Shakespeare, John Fletcher (a Shakespeare collaborator), and Theobald. The analysis “generally showed a strong presence of Shakespeare’s signature in the early parts of ‘Double Falsehood’; apparent contributions from Fletcher were greatest in the final two acts. Theobald’s signature had only a small presence.”

Boyd, R. & Pennebaker, J., “Did Shakespeare Write Double Falsehood? Identifying Individuals by Creating Psychological Signatures with Text Analysis,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Educators part of pipeline to prison

Education is an oft-discussed remedy to the United States’ outsized prison population, but new research from psychologists at Stanford suggests that, for black men, the school system may actually be stacking the deck against them. In two experiments, K-12 teachers from school districts around the country read about a first infraction and then a second infraction by a middle school student. If the student had a stereotypically black name, teachers were significantly more troubled after the second infraction — more likely to consider the misbehavior a pattern, label the student a troublemaker, recommend discipline, and imagine suspending the student in the future. This was especially true for teachers who guessed that the student was black based on his name.

Okonofua, J. & Eberhardt, J., “Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

‘Token’ female leader no solution

One way not to diversify corporate leadership? Add a female executive. Researchers at the business schools of the University of Maryland and Columbia University analyzed the executive teams of publicly traded corporations and found that the presence of one woman made it 51 percent less likely that a second woman would also be on that team, controlling for other characteristics of the firm. This isolating effect was stronger for functional support positions (e.g., human resources, marketing, finance) — which are arguably less valued, since they’re less likely to be promoted to CEO — than for operational positions. Contrary to the so-called queen bee syndrome, the presence of a woman CEO mitigated this effect.

Dezso, C. et al., “Is There an Implicit Quota on Women in Top Management? A Large-Sample Statistical Analysis,” Strategic Management Journal (forthcoming).

Victimhood yields optimism

Acknowledging suffering may be the first step to reconciliation. In an experiment, psychologists in Israel randomly assigned Jewish and Palestinian students to read that “studies clearly show that the real victim of the conflict is the [Palestinian/Jewish] party as [Palestinians/Jews] experienced greater injustice and suffering on both the national and individual levels.” Both groups became significantly more willing to forgive and reconcile and less pessimistic about the conflict after reading that their group was the real victim.

SimanTov-Nachlieli, I. et al., “Winning the Victim Status Can Open Conflicting Groups to Reconciliation: Evidence from the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” European Journal of Social Psychology (March 2015).

ADHD and the air up there

If you or a loved one has ADHD, maybe it’s time to get high. As in Rocky Mountain high. (But no, not Colorado high.) Researchers in Utah note that “different rates of ADHD have been observed regionally,” such that “rates in the South and the Midwest were approximately 10%, whereas rates in the West were approximately 5%.” Their own analysis found that mean state altitude was associated with lower state ADHD rates, even controlling for demographics, percentage with low birth weight, percentage uninsured, and percentage with a history of depression or anxiety. The researchers speculate that the lower oxygen is counteracting ADHD by raising levels of dopamine — a key neurotransmitter — in the brain.

Huber, R. et al., “Association between Altitude and Regional Variation of ADHD in Youth,” Journal of 0Attention Disorders (forthcoming).


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


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