uncommon knowledge

Rudeness is contagious

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Rudeness in the workplace may be the cost of doing business, but a new study suggests that employers should treat it like a contagious disease. Researchers at the University of Florida found that students who negotiated with a rude partner were themselves ruder in a subsequent negotiation days later. Students who observed rude behavior were subsequently able to identify rude words more quickly, and students who responded to a mock customer e-mail were especially hostile when the e-mail was ambiguously rude — even more than when the e-mail was obviously rude — if they had previously observed rude behavior.

Foulk, T. et al., “Catching Rudeness Is Like Catching a Cold: The Contagion Effects of Low-Intensity Negative Behaviors,” Journal of Applied Psychology (forthcoming).

Power sharing

Why are so many politicians, CEOs, and celebrities hypocrites? Perhaps it’s the nature of power. In several experiments, psychologists at Stanford had participants write about a time they had power over someone else — to put them in a high-power state of mind — and then had them react to various sharing situations. Not only did high-power participants expect others to share more fairly with them, but high-power participants were significantly faster in pointing out — and quitting — when they weren’t getting their fair share. However, when high-power participants were neutral observers or getting more than their fair share, they were actually slower to recognize unfairness.

Sawaoka, T. et al., “Power Heightens Sensitivity to Unfairness against the Self,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

Programmers wanted


Low-skilled workers might get the most attention in national debates over immigration, but the impact of foreign high-skilled workers on domestic labor is no less important. To measure it, a team of economists created a detailed model of the computer-science sector during the Internet boom, when the H-1B visa program allowed more foreign computer scientists into the United States. The model was calibrated with actual wages, employment, and enrollment in computer science and took into account that employers had a choice of hiring new domestic computer science graduates, older domestic workers who could switch into computer science, or foreign computer scientists. The model also assumed that foreign computer scientists were more productive. The model “suggests that had US firms not been able to increase their employment of foreign computer scientists above its 1994 level, computer science wages would be 2.8 percent — 3.8 percent higher in 2004. Furthermore, the number of Americans working in the computer science industry would be 7.0 – 13.6 percent higher, the total number of computer science workers would be 3.8 – 9.0 percent lower, and the enrollment levels in computer science would be 19.9 – 25.5 percent higher than the observed levels in 2004.”

Bound, J. et al., “Recruitment of Foreigners in the Market for Computer Scientists in the United States,” Journal of Labor Economics (July 2015).

Of men and monkeys

If you really want to know whether other people have a low opinion of you, ask them how much of a Neanderthal they think you are. In a new study, researchers showed people a set of silhouettes representing the iconic ape-to-human evolutionary march and asked people to rate various groups by indicating their corresponding stage of evolution. Americans tended to have the lowest evolutionary opinions of Muslims — opinions which became significantly worse right after, for example, the Boston Marathon bombings, compared to two months before or six months after the bombings. While this measure of dehumanization was correlated with measures of prejudice and perceived threat, it still explained various measures of hostility toward other groups even when controlling for prejudice or perceived threat.

Kteily, N. et al., “The Ascent of Man: Theoretical and Empirical Evidence for Blatant Dehumanization,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Street-level racism

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Leaving racial discrimination in the past doesn’t mean you should leave it in your rearview mirror. In an experiment at a marked, mid-block crosswalk in downtown Portland, Ore., in mild weather and clear conditions, three white men and three black men in their 20s with a similar height and build and wearing the same outfits took turns approaching the crosswalk with the same walking speed and body posture. On average, twice as many cars passed the black pedestrians before they could cross, causing them to have to wait 32 percent longer to cross.

Goddard, T. et al., “Racial Bias in Driver Yielding Behavior at Crosswalks,” Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour (August 2015).

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


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