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Your father loves you . . . especially if you act like him. College students at the University of Albany who reported that they resembled their fathers — in physical features but especially in interests, mannerisms, and attitudes — also reported having a closer and more involved relationship with him. The authors of the study explain this as an evolutionary adaptation among men — from the time before paternity tests — to avoid raising another man’s offspring.

Gallup, G. et al., "Behavioral Resemblance and Paternal Investment: Which Features of the Chip off the Old Block Count?" Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences (forthcoming).

Information asymmetry

The free market offers competition and choice, but the reality is that we often don’t know what’s best for us. Consider health insurance: A new study examined the choices of employees at a large company who could customize the same underlying insurance plan with different levels of cost-sharing and premiums. It found that the majority of employees chose plans that were unambiguously worse in terms of overall cost (e.g., paying $500 in extra premium to get a $250 lower deductible). Such poor choices were especially likely among low-income employees, female employees, older employees, and sicker employees. Poor plan choices were also found in national surveys, where choices were only made significantly better after people went through a health-insurance tutorial, but even then, about a third of people still chose unambiguously worse.

Bhargava, S. et al., "Do Individuals Make Sensible Health Insurance Decisions? Evidence from a Menu with Dominated Options," National Bureau of Economic Research (May 2015).

Tortured logic

Do you think torture yields good information? If so, would you expect our enemies to benefit from it, too? In two experiments, researchers at Columbia University found that Americans who supported torture were significantly more likely to consider information obtained from the torture of an enemy to be more valuable than if the same information were obtained by other means. This preference for coerced information remained even when controlling for political conservatism, but it went away when torture supporters considered a reverse scenario, where an American operative is tortured by the enemy for information. In that case, torture supporters assumed that the American operative would be less likely to give up valuable information.

Ames, D. & Lee, A., "Tortured Beliefs: How and When Prior Support for Torture Skews the Perceived Value of Coerced Information," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (September 2015).

Valuable leadership

Cutting off the head of the snake has long been the modus operandi in counterterrorist operations. But the snake can just as often become a hydra. In a study from the department of unintended consequences, political scientists at Northeastern University and the University of Virginia found that the leaders of militant groups generally restrain those groups from indiscriminate violence. Data from the Middle East and North Africa during 1980-2004 indicate that groups without centralized leadership or the ability to easily communicate were about twice as likely to target civilians. Likewise, data on drone strikes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal regions during 2004-2011 reveal that leadership deaths shifted a group’s focus to civilian targets and away from military targets. This also happened to the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a Palestinian group, after Israel’s attacks on the group’s leadership during the Second Intifada (2000-2005), which “empowered lower-level members bent on attracting esteem within the community, climbing the organizational hierarchy, and avenging Palestinian suffering to which they were disproportionately exposed.”

Abrahms, M. & Potter, P., "Explaining Terrorism: Leadership Deficits and Militant Group Tactics," International Organization (Spring 2015).

Too much of a good thing

Have more sex. While that may sound like a commandment you can live by, the reality may not be all fun and games. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University randomly assigned healthy, sexually active, married couples between the ages of 35 and 65 to double their frequency of sex. Every morning for the following three months, both husband and wife were asked to complete a 10-minute online survey. Although the instructed couples didn’t quite double their frequency, they did report having more sex. Unfortunately, they also reported a somewhat worse mood and less desire for and enjoyment of sex. This didn’t appear to be explained by the increased frequency of sex per se. Instead, the instruction may have reduced intrinsic motivation.

Loewenstein, G. et al., "Does Increased Sexual Frequency Enhance Happiness?" Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (forthcoming).


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


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